The Monkey’s Uncle (1965)

THE MONKEY’S UNCLE (1965)
Article 3046 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-9-2009
Posting Date: 12-16-2009
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Featuring Tommy Kirk, Annette Funicello, Leon Ames
Country: USA
What it is: Shopping Cart Movie

Merlin Jones’s experiments with monkeys are used to save the football team at Midvale college. In the first half, he must find a way to help the football players pass their English exams or else face expulsion. In the second half, he must prove that men can fly under their own power in order for the college to net a ten million dollar contribution that will trump a smaller one which requires the removal of the football program.

Feeling as they do like TV episodes strung together, the Merlin Jones movies come across as the chintziest of the Disney shopping cart movies. But even the Disney at its chintziest has its surprises; for one thing, that’s no anonymous rock group backing up Annette Funicello in the opening song, but the Beach Boys themselves. I also noticed that even though the movie consists of two separate stories, they don’t feel quite as disjointed as they might have, because there are enough similar themes between the two halves (the sleep learning, the theme of saving the football team, the monkey subplot) to make the movie feel more like a single entity. Granted, it’s still one of the weaker of Disney’s efforts, and it really suffers by comparison to some of Disney’s other efforts of the era. All in all, it’s likable enough, but extremely minor.

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Scream of the Demon Lover (1970)

SCREAM OF THE DEMON LOVER (1970)
aka Il castello dalle porte di fuoco
Article 3045 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-8-2009
Posting Date: 12-15-2009
Directed by Jose Luis Merino
Featuring Ema Schurer, Carlos Quiney, Agostina Belli
Country: Italy / Spain
What it is: Spanish / Italian period horror of the damsel-in-castle variety

A female biochemist is hired to work for a baron who is suspected of having killed all of his mistresses with the help of two savage dogs. She is hired to help develop a way to regenerate burnt human flesh. She begins to suspect the baron is guilty of the murders… or is he? One thing’s for sure; it’s not the dogs that are responsible.

This is one of those movies that had me wondering at first just how familiar it would be; I’ve seen a lot of Italian horror movies with women in castles with murderers. To its credit, the movie has a few twists to add to its familiar tale, and it even dredges up a bit of mystery when it becomes clear that two different explanations could be tendered for the events. Unfortunately, the script is quite clumsy at times; all too often, the characters act in ways that make no sense, especially the female biochemist. Still, its best scenes are quite effective, and in some ways it reminds me of HORROR CASTLE, though the plots aren’t really that similar. It’s no classic, but it is somewhat better than I expected it would be.

The Savage Bees (1976)

THE SAVAGE BEES (1976)
TV-Movie
Article 3044 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-7-2009
Posting Date: 12-14-2009
Directed by Bruce Geller
Featuring Ben Johnson, Michael Parks, Paul Hecht
Country: USA
What it is: Killer Bee Thriller

A boat from Brazil inadvertently brings a swarm of killer bees to New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

I haven’t seen every killer bee movie ever made yet, but I’d have to say that I think the TV-Movies did a better job with the concept than the theatrical ones. This one does a nice job of following different story threads at the beginning, with a sheriff investigating the death of his dog, a ship that is mysteriously bereft of crew, and a child who goes to church and doesn’t come back. Granted, it isn’t really that mysterious (once the title comes up, you know what’s tying them all together), but it’s solid, well-acted, and does a decent job of giving you the willies. It flirts a little with the theme of stalling bureaucrats, though it really doesn’t develop the theme fully and instead keeps focused on the action at hand. Ben Johnson does a great job as the sheriff doing his best in difficult circumstances, and James Best pops up in a small role as one of the aforementioned bureaucrats. This TV-Movie was popular enough to spawn a sequel, TERROR OUT OF THE SKY. I have to give special notice to Norman E. Gary, the bee wrangler for this movie (which used hundreds of thousands of real bees) and to the gutsy cast who often allow themselves to be enveloped by their tiny co-stars. There were very few bee-related injuries on the set.

Maciste in King Solomon’s Mines (1964)

MACISTE IN KING SOLOMON’S MINES (1964)
aka Samson in King Solomon’s Mines, Maciste nelle miniere di re Salomone
Article 3043 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-6-2009
Posting Date: 12-13-2009
Directed by Piero Regnoli
Featuring Reg Park, Wandisa Guida, Bruno Piergentili
Country: Italy
What it is: Sword-and-Sandal fantasy

An evil courtier combines forces with a female barbarian to conquer a fortress that will give them access to the riches of King Solomon’s mines. When they do so, they make slaves of the villagers in the surrounding countryside, but Maciste is going to come to the rescue…

There’s a couple of pieces of novelty to this sword-and-sandal epic. It’s set in Africa and features location footage from South Africa (making this at least partially a jungle movie as well), and the female villain starts out as a fighting barbarian. I was hoping they’d make interesting use of that last aspect, but once she becomes queen of the city, she becomes just another in a long line of evil queens. Maciste does lots of heavy lifting, is outwitted by the evil queen and becomes her slave, and, as usual, comes to the rescue in the end. Despite the above novelties, this is pretty routine.

Rocket Attack U.S.A. (1961)

ROCKET ATTACK U.S.A. (1961)
Article 3042 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-5-2009
Posting Date: 12-12-2009
Directed by Barry Mahon
Featuring Monica Davis, John McKay, Phillip St. George
Country: USA
What it is: Cold War Sputnik Nuclear Attack Paranoia

Spies are sent to the Soviet Union to find out whether Sputnik is transmitting critical information to the communists. They not only find that such is the case, but that a nuclear attack on New York is being planned.

The first three-quarters of this movie is thrill-an-hour spy stuff (since this sequence only takes forty-five minutes, I’m assuming the thrill would have occurred during the next fifteen minutes had it continued). The rest of the movie shows the aftermath of the result of the spy mission. I’ve dealt with director Barry Mahon before; he gave us BLOOD OF THE ZOMBIE and THE BEAST THAT KILLED WOMEN, both of which are awful and both of which are better than this one. It’s something of an update of INVASION U.S.A. with Sputnik and nuclear paranoia thrown into the mix; it’s a compendium of stock footage and extremely static and poorly-acted new footage that falls flat for practically every second of its running time. Still, even with a loser like this one, I do find a couple of things to admire. The Russians actually speak Russian, and they don’t use subtitles, which is a novel idea for the time. Furthermore, the final part of the movie spends some time with the lives of ordinary people in New York who don’t know what is about to happen, and it gives it an unexpected human touch. If the static direction wasn’t so deadly, these ideas might have given the movie a bit of a lift; unfortunately, as it is, they’re just good ideas poorly used. You’re better off with INVASION U.S.A., which has better acting and a certain amount of energy.

Panic in the City (1968)

PANIC IN THE CITY (1968)
Article 3041 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-4-2009
Posting Date: 12-11-2009
Directed by Eddie Davis
Featuring Howard Duff, Linda Cristal, Stephen McNally
Country: USA
What it is: Thriller with marginal SF elements

When a mysterious man is found in the street with a high radiation count, an agent from the National Bureau of Investigation is called in to investigate. He eventually discovers a foreign plot to build and detonate an atomic bomb in the city of Los Angeles.

The basic plot is fairly ordinary, but it’s well-written and concentrates on the cat-and-mouse game between the NBI and the agents. The direction is rather unimaginative, but it keeps itself focused on the plot, which helps through some of the duller scenes. The acting is good, and it handles its story realistically and without sensationalism. The end result is a mildly engrossing thriller, one that rises above its low budget and occasionally shows moments of inspiration. My favorite line is from Linda Cristal (about paying the telephone bill), and my favorite moment is the final one, where we can see, without a word spoken, how she is going to handle her grief. The cast also features Nehemiah Persoff, Oscar Beregi Jr., Anne Jeffreys, John Hoyt, George Barrows, and Dennis Hopper. Not bad at all.

Prophecies of Nostradamus (1979)

PROPHECIES OF NOSTRADAMUS (1979)
Article 3040 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-3-2009
Posting Date: 12-10-2009
Director unknown
Featuring Kirk Alexander, Richard Butler, John Waters
Country: Australia
What it is: Speculative documentary involving prophecies and future predictions

The life of Nostradamus is told, and the prophecies in his quatrains are examined.

In terms of the speculative nature of this sort of documentary, I do feel compelled to point out two facts right off the bat. Apparently the quatrains were purposefully written in an elusive manner and in several different languages so he could avoid the stigma of witchcraft. Secondly, during a sequence which explores a prophecy that took place during his lifetime, Nostradamus was quoted as saying that his prophecies could be avoided. These are what I think of as “outs”; if a prophecy doesn’t come true, we either a) didn’t understand them, or b) avoided them. In short, we’re asked not to judge him on the basis of the prophecies that don’t take place.

As far as the prophecies that did take place, I’ll have to reserve judgment; I’ve never read the prophecies themselves, and I’m no expert on the historical events they are purported to have predicted. If the movie itself can be trusted in this regard, than I will say that some of them do seem quite accurate. However, the last third of the movie consists of predictions of the future. Now the interesting thing about watching a documentary of this nature thirty years after the fact is that we can look at these predictions, and ask “Did they come true?” Considering that the prophecies state that World War III should have started somewhere between 1981 and 1998, I’d have to say that the predictions are way off. But there are those “outs” mentioned above; were the prophecies misunderstood? Did we avoid them? Or are they a load of hooey?

At any rate, I do think this is one of the better documentaries of this nature, though it’s another case where you’ll probably know ahead of time whether you’d want to bother with this one or not.