The Blob (1958)

Article #9 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 3-24-2001
Posting date: 8-7-2001

 

Two teens discover a shapeless blob from outer space is consuming the residents of a small town.

This was the first of three movies produced by Jack Harris and directed by Irwin S. Yeaworth, Jr. It also remains their best collaboration. Taking an opposite strategy than AIP was taking at that time, they took enough money to make two low-budget movies for a single picture that they could shoot in color and make as good as they could, and the results are actually pretty impressive. The monster is as basic as you can get, but the end result is pretty impressive. What I like best, though, is the way the characters are fleshed out, especially the teens and the policemen; you get a strong impression that these characters have known each other a long time. There’s a number of really nice touches, including the chess game the police play over the radio. This is one of my favorites, and I always enjoy watching it again.

The Black Cat (1934)

Article #8 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 3-24-2001
Posting date: 8-6-2001

 

A devil worshipper is visited by an old enemy who has sworn revenge on him.

This is definitely the strangest of the classic Universal horror movies of the thirties. The art deco house of Hjalmer Poelzig is even more unsettling than all the gloomy castles that make up the other movies of that era. It’s also the first movie together for Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, and both of them have great roles that pit them against each other beautifully; if I’d been casting, I most likely would have reversed their roles, but I’m not so sure it would have worked any better that way than it does now. The plot is a bit muddled, most likely as a result of censorship, but the interplay between the characters is so strong, the dialogue so witty (“Do you hear that, Vitus? The phone is dead. Even the phone is dead!”), and the direction by Edgar Ulmer so strong, that it doesn’t matter. Even the comic relief sequence with the two policemen works in its own offhand way. This is one of my favorites.

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

Article #7 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 3-22-2001
Posting date: 8-5-2001

 

A Rhedosaurus is released from the icy polar regions to wreak havoc on the world.

This isn’t the first movie in which Ray Harryhausen worked on the special effects, but it’s the first one where he was in charge, and he does a fine job of showing that he’s learned his lessons well. It’s also an important movie in that it pretty much kicks off the “giant monsters rampaging through modern city” genre that arose in the fifties, and probably influenced the creation of Godzilla as well. I also find it to be one of the more consistent of his black-and-white movies; the surrounding story is somewhat stronger than it would be in EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS or IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA, for example. Though it lacks the poetic sadness of “The Foghorn”, the Bradbury story that spawned the movie, it carves out a niche of its own, and works well on its own level. By the way, that’s Lee Van Cleef with the rifle in the final scenes.

Barbarella (1967)

Article #6 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 3-22-2001
Posting date: 8-4-2001

A female government agent investigates the disappearance of a scientist named Duran Duran.

All right, so it’s based on a sexy French comic book, which means I really shouldn’t judge it too harshly; it’s nothing more than a funny and sexy action thriller; it’s not supposed to be compared to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. That is all well and good. Unfortunately, as far as the funny parts go, the only laughs I got were at the gags surrounding the broken down machinery in use by the rebel camp in the city. As an action thriller, I found it unconvincing and sluggish; the action scenes move a lot slower than they should, and I never really believe that any of the characters are in danger. This leaves the sex, and I suppose this is the level at which it is the most successful, but even at that, the leering attitude prevalent in the movie gets awfully tiresome, and the “sexy” costumes look contrived and uncomfortable.

Of course, all of this may mean nothing more than that I’m missing the point, and there’s probably some truth to that. The movie, as far as I can tell, is “campy” fun; the problem is, I’m just not into the whole “camp” thing. I leave this movie to those who can appreciate this type of entertainment.

The sets are impressive, though.

Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)

Article #5 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 3-20-2001
Posting date: 8-3-2001

Several scientists are trapped on an isolated island inhabited by giant crabs intent on destroying them.

I remember enjoying this movie when I was a kid, but what surprised me the most when my local creature feature reran it a few years later was how much I enjoyed it the second time. It was then I noticed how scary some of the concepts were, specifically the fact that the crabs absorbed the minds and memories of the humans they ate, and were able to use their voices to lure further people to their doom. I still find it enjoyable many years later, and in particular I noticed this time was how well the movie uses sound to build up suspense; the clicking sound made by the crabs is genuinely unnerving. In fact, I’ve always felt that sound can be a lot more effective than visuals in creating an atmosphere of dread and suspense. It’s these touches and the strong script by Charles B. Griffith that make this movie work; it’s certainly not the lame-looking clumsy creatures themselves. This is one of my favorites of Corman’s early films.

The Ape (1940)

Article #4 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 3-19-2001
Posting date: 8-2-2001

A scientist trying to cure a girl from a crippling illness discovers that human spinal fluid is the key ingredient to the cure. When he kills an escaped gorilla in his home, he uses its hide as a costume to procure the spinal fluid.

I don’t know if this was the first horror movie to use spinal fluid as its secret ingredient, but I haven’t seen an earlier one. This would be Karloff’s only horror movie with Monogram, and it’s interesting to compare this with Lugosi’s Monogram horrors. One thing I notice is that the movie seems more geared to Karloff; the doctor is given a kindly quality that would most likely be absent if Lugosi was playing the role. I really responded to this one as a kid; I recall almost crying at the end of it. Nowadays, I see that it’s pretty silly, but I enjoy it all the same.

The Angry Red Planet (1960)

Article #3 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 3-18-2001
Posting date: 8-1-2001

Four astronauts take a trip to Mars and encounter strange creatures.

There is something incredibly likeable and positively cuddly about this movie; I just wish it was better. As it is, the first half, which concentrates on the trip to Mars, is a bore; things don’t pick up until they actually land there. This is where the bizarre red-filter process called “Cinemagic” comes into play, and though it’s obviously a gimmick of sorts, it does serve one purpose; it covers up how cheap the special effects were. I mean, the rat-bat-spider looks totally unconvincing in every photo I’ve seen of it; in the movie, it actually looks somewhat real through the red-filter. Needless to say, this monster is one of the silliest creations in SF cinema; how can you not love it? Not a great movie, but an enormously fun one, and sometimes, that can be enough.