House of the Damned (1963)

Article #1410 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-23-2005
Posting Date: 6-22-2005
Directed by Maury Dexter
Featuring Ron Foster, Merry Anders, Richard Crane

An architect is sent out to survey a deserted castle. When he arrives there with his wife, strange things begin to happen.

This movie is a low-budget cross between HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and … another movie whose title I won’t mention here, because it gives away the ending. Let’s just say that the other movie is very well known and has an enormous amount of novelty value, and that the novelty value of this movie is of the same order. It’s directed by Maury Dexter, who was also responsible for THE DAY MARS INVADED EARTH, and like that movie, I’m much more impressed with his ability to find great locations for movies (the castle is quite interesting) than his ability to make them lively or interesting. So what we get here are a few tepid scare scenes, lots of conversation, attempts at character development and conflicts that would have been welcome had they really led us anywhere, and an ending which manages to be both the most interesting and the most disappointing part of the movie. It had the potential to be a much better movie, but, as it is, it’s on the dull side and seems long at its 62 minute length.

Evil of Dracula (1974)

Article #1409 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-22-2005
Posting Date: 6-21-2005
Directed by Michio Yamamoto
Featuring Toshio Kurosawa, Kunie Tanaka, Katsuhiko Sasaki

A new professor at a girls’ college has reason to suspect that the principal is a vampire.

This was the last of three vampire movies directed by Michio Yamamoto, and if IMDB is correct, these three movies account for fully half of his output in a directorial capacity. This would also be the last movie he would direct. I haven’t seen the first of the three movies, but I have seen the second, known here as LAKE OF DRACULA, and at the very least, this movie has a better (albeit rather generic) title than that one. There are some interesting touches here; the backstory involving the torture of a Christian (at a time in Japanese history when that faith was not allowed) is unusual, the use of a white rose with sharp thorns (and which turns red at one point) is a good touch, the vampires bite their victims on the breast rather than on the neck, and, this being Japan, there is no use of the usual Christian symbols to ward off vampires. Still, outside of the novelty value of seeing the Japanese trying to do a Hammer-style horror film, there’s not a whole lot here that’s really different in terms of story; in other words, you’ve seen most of this before.

Around the World Under the Sea (1966)

Article #1408 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-21-2005
Posting Date: 6-20-2005
Directed by Andrew Marton
Featuring Lloyd Bridges, Brian Kelly, Shirley Eaton

A gang of adventurers embarks on a submarine voyage to plant sensors at the bottom of the ocean that can be used to track underwater earthquakes.

You know, there’s a certain type of adventure movie that has distinct qualities about it. Some of these qualities are –

– that you know you will be treated to lots and lots of ‘environmental’ footage. In this case, you’ll have more underwater footage than you can shake a stick at.

– that you’ll have a somewhat varied assortment of characters who will be your companions on the adventure.

– that each of this somewhat varied assortment of characters will be developed only enough so they can have their requisite number of character moments during the adventure. For example, the gruff cynic will develop a heart and save the beleagered guinea pigs.

– that the presence of one woman on the adventure combined with the presence of one man who doesn’t think a woman should be along on the adventure only adds up to one thing – romance.

– that the above romance will provide the entire character developments of both characters involved.

– that there will be plenty of incident (though I hesitate to call it action) during the voyage. Yet, despite all the incident, everything occurs at exactly the same level of excitement (or tedium), because there is no attempt made to build any real drama or suspense.

– that there will be a lot of talk.

– that you can safely ignore almost 95 percent of the talk.

– that, despite the fact that there will be a certain degree of character conflict among the adventurers, none of it will develop into anything really big because that would destroy the atmosphere of complacent cameraderie that defines the movie’s emotional center.

– that you can safely raid the refrigerator at any time during the length of the movie without the fear of missing something really important because nothing that happens ever feels more important than anything else.

– that you have no idea how long a time the voyage took because the movie fails to give you any indication of the passage of time.

– and finally, that you somehow knew that the movie was going to be like this after watching the first five minutes.

No, the movie is not awful. It is merely predictable and without any surprises. Even the presence of Keenan Wynn doesn’t really spice things up. It goes through the system easily and leaves nothing behind to remind you of its presence.

I’m ready to move on to the next movie now.

The Sign of Four (1932)

Article #1407 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-20-2005
Posting Date: 2-19-2005
Directed by Graham Cutts and Rowland V. Lee
Featuring Arthur Wontner, Isla Bevan, Ian Hunter

Sherlock Holmes must protect a woman from a murderous one-legged man.

As enjoyable as the Rathbone Holmes movies are, they weren’t the be-all and end-all of Holmesian cinema. There’s plenty of room for movies like this one, a fairly faithful take on the classic Doyle novel. It takes quite a while before Holmes actually appears on the scene, but the backstory that makes up the first third of this movie is interesting enough to hold the attention. Wontner does an excellent job as Holmes, capturing both his intelligence and his wit. His conversations with Watson reveal the former, while the latter is wonderfully shown in his scenes with a smug but dim-witted Scotland Yard detective. It’s a bit on the creaky side, the primitive sound and the accents render some of the dialogue unintelligible, and the fight scenes are unfortunately shot in fast motion, but this is a very satisfying Holmes adaptation.

A Shriek in the Night (1933)

Article #1406 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-19-2005
Posting Date: 6-18-2005
Directed by Albert Ray
Featuring Ginger Rogers, Lyle Talbot, Harvey Clark

When a man falls to his death from his penthouse, police and reporters try to figure out whether it was murder or suicide.

The presence of future Fred Astaire partner Ginger Rogers in the cast makes this forgotten horror one in which there is a certain novelty value, and though I sense that she didn’t feel entirely comfortable in the spunky reporter role, she gives a spirited performance. And even though the horror elements are slight (the murder victims all receive an ominous card heralding their deaths), there are other interesting points to this one. For one thing, it doesn’t take place in an old dark house. The villain is somewhat unexpected. The movie is also filled with some slightly oddball comic relief, though the fact that it features a scared black woman instead of a scared black man doesn’t alleviate the stereotype much. Still, the plot is over-complicated (it takes almost two minutes of dialogue at the end of the movie to explain the plot, and that’s way too long), and the direction is painfully static. The best moment comes near the end, when the meek, cowardly assistant to the inspector faces off against the murderer. It has its moments, but it is a bit of a chore to watch at times.

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942)

Article #1405 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-18-2005
Posting Date: 6-17-2005
Directed by John Rawlins
Featuring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Evelyn Ankers

Sherlock Holmes is called in by the inner council to track down a saboteur who is using the airwaves to report his acts of sabotage.

At one point in this series I made the comment that I liked the way the Holmes series was handling its wartime propaganda; most of the movies I’d seen from the series at that time had featured nothing more than a terse but stirring handful of comments near the end of the movie. However, these examples came from the later movies of the series. This was the first of the modern-day Sherlock Holmes series at Universal, and it’s fairly steeped in the wartime propaganda. In fact, it takes over the movie to such an extent that the usual charms of a Sherlock Holmes movie are fairly overwhelmed. Furthermore, the closest thing I can find here to qualify as fantastic content is some moody photography, so fans of fantastic cinema have no real reason to check out this one. Overall, I’d have to choose this one as the weakest of the series. And on a side note, I’m certainly glad Basil Rathbone found a better barber for the later movies in the series.

Scrooge (1936)

SCROOGE (1936)
Article #1404 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-17-2005
Posting Date: 2-16-2005
Directed by Henry Edwards
Featuring Seymour Hicks, Donald Calthrop, Robert Cochrane

Scrooge is visited by ghosts on Christmas Eve who teach him the true meaning of Christmas.

In some ways, I can’t really fault this adaptation of Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol”. It has a good deal of atmosphere, and with one exception (Mary Glynne overacts a bit in her scene with Scrooge), the acting is fine. However, on the whole, this adaptation leaves me unsatisfied. For me, the problem is with the middle section of the story involving the ghosts. With the exception of the Ghost of Christmas Present, I find the ghosts to be extremely disappointing; the Ghost of Christmas Future is a shadow on the wall, and the Ghost of Christmas Past is blurry figure of light. It also doesn’t help that the section involving the Ghost of Christmas Past only touches upon one single event in Scrooge’s past life, which seems a lot stingier than is necessary. For me, though, the worst problem is the portrayal of Marley; after a nice buildup to his appearance, I was deeply disappointed that instead of the lockbox-laden figure of the story, we get nothing more than a disembodied voice. In fact, whoever plays Marley isn’t even given a credit. This may not matter to some people, but for me, the visual presence of Marley is very important to the story, and this movie leaves me feeling cheated. The movie isn’t a disaster, but this is a long ways from the best version of the story out there.