Village of the Giants (1965)

Article #140 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-3-2001
Posting date: 12-17-2001

Several juvenile deliquent teens steal a substance concocted by Ronny Howard, boy genius, that causes animals to grow to many times their natural size. They consume the substance, and then use their new-found stature to take over the town.

That sound you hear is H.G. Wells rolling over in his grave. I haven’t read the novel on which this movie was based, but I’m willing to bet that very little of the novel ended up on the screen. It’s like one of those Disney comedies of the period (which I call shopping cart movies, in reference to a movie watched by some kids in the Joe Dante movie MATINEE), only with the emphasis on female anatomy; when the teens grow, the camera is clearly most interested in the girls popping out of their clothes, there is an overabundance of close-ups of wiggling derrieres during the dance scene (not to mention the shots of ducks wiggling their tale feathers), and the scene where the giant woman dances with the normal sized Johnny Crawford (he has to hang off her bra) is enough to cure you of several sexual fantasies. For the Disney crowd, there’s Ronny Howard and Tommy Kirk. Beau Bridges and choreographer Toni Basil are also on hand. Blame it all on Bert I. Gordon, who, not content with running this Wells novel through the wringer once, would go back to it eleven years later. Now I don’t have any real illusions about Bert I. Gordon; when I see his name in the credits, I adjust my expectations accordingly. But in general, he tended to set his vision to a somewhat higher level of sophistication and taste than he did this time around.


Vampyr (1932)

VAMPYR (1932)
Article #139 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-2-2001
Posting date: 12-16-2001

A man whose “vision reaches beyond that of most men” encounters a family being plagued by a vampire, an ugly old woman.

This is certainly one of the strangest vampire movies I’ve ever seen. Half of it is a relatively straightforward vampire movie (and I do mean relatively), but because the main character seems to live in both one world and another, we have several sequences of this other world, a world where men’s shadows detach themselves from the bodies to which they belong to live a life of their own, and where the hero seems to both witness and take part in his own burial. The storyline can be quite hard to follow, and it is so full of haunting and memorable images, that it, more than any other movie I know of, feels like a bizarre, only partially remembered dream. The movie was apparently shot silent, and the dialogue was added later. I have a great deal of affection for movies this strange.

The Unknown (1927)

Article #138 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-1-2001
Posting date: 12-15-2001

An armless knife-thrower (who isn’t really armless but performs in a harness) in a circus is in love with another circus performer who can’t stand men putting their arms around her; the knife-thrower encourages this distaste in her to keep her away from the strongman to whom she is attracted. He decides to have his arms surgically removed for good in order to win her and cover up his deception, but she overcomes her repugnance to being held just as he does this.

This is perhaps my favorite Lon Chaney performance as well as my favorite Tod Browning movie. I always marvel at the skill with which Chaney pulls off this role, despite the fact that the harness he wore contributed to his back problems; the scene where he tearfully lights and smokes a cigarette with his feet without realizing that his hands are free to do this at the moment is wonderful. It’s not really a horror movie, but is often included in lists of this sort, probably due to the presence of Chaney, the role he’s playing, and a certain depravity in the proceedings. Joan Crawford plays the woman he loves, and John George his sidekick.

Two Lost Worlds (1950)

Article #137 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-31-2001
Posting date: 12-14-2001

The first mate of an American clipper ship is injured in a pirate attack, and is left in a small farming village in Australia to recuperate. There he gets involved in a romantic triangle and tangles with the pirates some more. Eventually, he ends up on a deserted island and has a brush with slurpasaurs.

James Arness appeared in two of the finest science fiction movies of the fifties. He also appeared in this one, which, if Rich Wannen’s theory is correct, was originally a straightforward pirate movie that had slurpasaur footage added to make it more marketable. This footage lasts about a minute and a half, and has little to do with the rest of the movie, which is a lot more concerned about clipper ships than it is about lost worlds. As a pirate flick, it seems competent but totally uninspired; as a lost world movie, it is a waste of time.

Now I’ve gone on about the title of this movie before, and I’ll probably do so again, and I’m certainly not going to miss this opportunity; where the hell is the other lost world? The title promises two; the island with the slurpasaurs is one; where is the other? Is it Australia? Does Australia really qualify as a lost world? If so, how about Nebraska? Does this make me the resident of a lost world? This movie wins the uncoveted DS Bait-and-Switch award for deceptive film titles.

By the way, those two slurpasaurs look like my old friends from ONE MILLION B.C., Ignatz and Rumsford! Glad to see you back, boys. Destroy a clipper ship for me, won’t you?

Possible alternate titles:


Sorry, I’m babbling. It’s been a long week.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

Article #136 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-30-2001
Posting date: 12-13-2001

A sea monster believed to be responsible for the destruction of several ships in the 19th century turns out to be a submarine called the Nautilus, helmed by the enigmatic Captain Nemo.

One of the fun things about this project is having two movies in a row that link up in some way; in this case, we have another Verne adaptation today.

As for the movie itself, I feel quite ambivalent about it, as I do about the whole Disney machine anyway. The movie is anchored by a solid performance by James Mason as Nemo, and there are definite joys to be found in the production; it’s beautiful to look at, for one thing, the design of th Nautilus is classic, and the fight with the giant squid is amazing. But it’s also inundated with touches that I don’t like. It makes me a bit queasy to see Kirk Douglas trying to give the character of Ned Land these light, cute comic touches, such as his playing with a seal and singing that godawful “Whale of a Tale” song. Nor do I believe for a moment that a seasoned sailor would be disgusted by seafood meals during the dinner sequence. I also think Peter Lorre is wasted in the role of Conseil. I really think the movie would be much better overall if it took itself more seriously, or made the comic aspects less cute; as it is, the movie spends too much time reminding you it came from Disney.

A Trip to the Moon (1902)

Article #135 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-29-2001
Posting date: 12-12-2001

Scientists are shot to the moon from a big gun. There they encounter exploding moon men.

This is perhaps the most famous movie of the very early years of cinema; only THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY really gives it any competition in this regard. Certainly it is the best known work of Georges Melies, a stage magician who became enamored by the magical possibilities of film, and then proceeded to make more than five hundred shorts that experimented with visual special effects. If you haven’t seen it, at least you’ve probably seen the most famous moment in stills, where the capsule embeds itself in the eye of the moon (I love the description of this moment in the narrated version of this short, where the rocket is described as “kissing” the eye of the moon).

The movie was never intended to be a realistic depiction of a trip to the moon; it was meant as a witty spectacle, and on that level it succeeds. Unfortunately, Melies never quite mastered cinematic story-telling techniques, so it can be quite difficult to tell what is going on at times. If you can find a narrated version of the short, it will help, even though the narrator has a very thick French accent.

This wasn’t the earliest SF movie, but it may be the earliest one that can be found easily; most of the other early ones involved sausage-making machines. Melies himself had been making movies for four years before he made this one; he would go on making movies for another eight, but he was never really able to surpass this one.

The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

Article #134 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-28-2001
Posting date: 12-11-2001

A thief sneaks into the castle of the caliph and falls in love with her daughter, which causes him to lose his thieving spirit. In order to win her hand, he has to engage in a heroic quest.

This epic Arabian Nights fantasy is a bit long, but it is enormous fun, and one of my favorite movies in this genre. A lot of the credit has to go to Douglas Fairbanks, who gives one of the most gleefully energetic performances I’ve ever seen; you can tell he loved doing this sort of thing (he also cowrote and produced the movie). Raoul Walsh directs with great flare, and the sets by William Cameron Menzies are wonderful. Anna May Wong, Noble Johnson, and Brandon Hurst are all along for the ride. I have to admit I much prefer this to the 1940 Korda version, though I’m sure I can expect disagreement on this point.

Them! (1954)

THEM! (1954)
Article #133 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-27-2001
Posting date: 12-10-2001

Strange attacks in the desert lead to the revelation that nuclear testing has resulted in a race of giant ants.

This is far and away my favorite of the giant bug movies, and it still thrills today. On top of the enjoyable performances (James Whitmore, Edmund “Kris Kringle” Gwenn, James Arness, and in smaller roles, Onslow Stevens, Fess Parker, Olin Howlin; also according to IMDB, William Schallert, Leonard Nimoy and Ann Doran are all in there), it is one of the most suspenseful science fiction movies I’ve ever seen.

What amazes me the most about this movie, though, is the skill with which the first third of the movie (before the appearance of the ants) is handled. Even though I knew the movie was about giant ants from the outset, I still found the step-by-step revelation of them to be totally engrossing; the opening shots of Sandy Descher wandering through the desert in shock are exquisite and unforgettable. There’s always something interesting going on, and I don’t end up sitting there impatiently waiting for the monsters to show up, as I’m apt to do in some other movies from the fifties.


I also admire that the movie had the guts to kill off one of its main characters, and on top of this, the one to which I’d become most attached.

The Terror (1963)

Article #132 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-26-2001
Posting date: 12-9-2001

A soldier of the Napoleanic wars encounters and falls in love with a strange woman. She somehow seems to be connected with a mysterious baron and a witch.

For some reason, this movie seems to be one of the most commonly discussed of Corman’s many films. Part of the reason is that in its own way it is somewhat legendary; it was made in order for Roger Corman to take advantage of the few extra days he had Boris Karloff under contract. Several directors worked on it, including Francis Ford Coppola and (according to IMDB) Jack Nicholson himself, plus it was being written practically as it was being shot. Other reasons include the presence of Nicholson and Karloff together, with Karloff in the type of role he could probably play in his sleep, and Nicholson in a poorly conceived and quite awful role; the end result is that Karloff comes off looking like the much better actor. The presence of Dick Miller is a definite plus. I’ve seen it a few times, and as a movie, I don’t think it’s very good, but considering how it was made, it’s an accomplishment that it is as good as it is.

I also have to feel a little sorry for Nicholson; of his movies, this one and LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS are in public domain, and marketers love to pair the two movies and call it their Jack Nicholson collection; considering he has little more than a cameo in the latter movie (albeit a great one), and that this movie has one of his poorest performances, I find it a little sad that anyone would think that these two movies give an adequate presentation of this man, his career, and his talent.

Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)

Article #131 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-25-2001
Posting date: 12-8-2001

A reporter offers evidence in a murder case that incriminates a suspect, and the man is condemned to death. When a tenant who shares the same apartment building with the reporter is killed, the reporter is the first to discover the body, and realizes that his own actions make him look like a suspect in the murder.

This film is considered by many to be the first film noir, and though it doesn’t contain all the elements associated with the genre, I can see why. The presence of Peter Lorre as a psychotic murderer (an excellent performance) is what places the movie at least marginally in the horror genre, and the dream sequence that the reporter undergoes when he fears that people will see him as the murderer is also quite fantastic; it’s probably the best part of the movie.

Unfortunately, I have real problems with the story as a whole; I think the coincidences that drive the story are very hard to swallow, (the reporter is seen engaging in the same exact behavior as the man he incriminates, the man who really committed the murders is the same in each case, etc.), and I don’t really care for the fact that the movie seems to be morally judging the reporter for having done nothing more than truthfully testifying in court; to place the blame for the man’s wrongful condemnation on his shoulders (as both the movie and his girlfriend do) is patently unfair. I also find it hard to believe that his newspaper would allow him to be a reporter on the story when he himself is one of the witnesses; I suspect that would be considered somewhat unethical, and that another reporter would have been sent. All in all, despite its good qualities, I find the movie to be ultimately unconvincing and silly, and though it may be the first noir, there were better to come.

Incidentally, the cast includes Charles Halton (as the man who shares the apartment building with the reporter) and Elisha Cook Jr. (as the innocent man sentenced by mistake).