Destiny (1921)

DESTINY (1921)
(a.k.a. DER MUDE TOD)
Article #400 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 4-19-2002
Posting date: 9-12-2002

When Death steals away with the fiance of a young woman, she kills herself in order to enter his domain and win him back from him.

It might be interesting to sit down someday and review the ways Death as a character has been portrayed in the movies. Here he is weary, hoping that the woman will prove her assertion that “Love is stronger than Death” to take some of the sadness and hardness out of his job. Her test is to attempt to save any one of three people doomed to die, and what unfolds are three very different stories on the same theme (Love Vs. Death, a theme Woody Allen would no doubt find interesting); the last one is the most comic and the most enjoyable. The ending is touching, powerful, logical and sad, and is both a victory and a loss. It’s not the best of Fritz Lang’s movies, but it’s memorable and worthwhile.

Atomic War Bride (1960)

(a.k.a. RAT)
Article #399 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 4-18-2002
Posting date: 9-11-2002

A man’s wedding is interrupted by a declaration of war, and he tries to get home with his wife before the bombs strike.

This Yugoslavian nuclear war movie is almost indescribable. It is madly satirical, almost comic at times, darkly bleak at others, all centered around the exploits of the groom, who somehow remains giddily optimistic in the face of the apocalypse. It reminds me of both DR. STRANGELOVE and THIS IS NOT A TEST (it’s companion on DVD), but it predates them both and stakes out its own territory in the end-of-the-world movie genre. There are many unforgettable images; the destruction of a cow by airplanes, a bizarre radiation outfit training scene, a series of camouflage exercises that will leave your mouth hanging open, and the devastatingly sad final scene. I’d never even heard of this movie before I began my project; now I don’t think I’ll forget it.

Have Rocket, Will Travel (1959)

Article #398 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 4-17-2002
Posting date: 9-10-2002

Three janitors accidentally take off in a rocket and land on Venus.

It’s the Three Stooges. Some people love them, some people hate them. I’m on the fence. Sure, they essayed the most primitive of slapstick humor, but they did so with energy, a good sense of timing (and sometimes even exquisite timing), and they had a good ear for funny sound effects. Even here, in their waning years (no Curly or Shemp; instead, we have Curley Joe Derita), they still retained enough timing and imagination to be fitfully amusing, and in truth, that’s all I really expect from them. Sure, it’s not a great movie by any means, but I prefer it to ABBOTT AND COSTELLO GO TO MARS for a start, even if the last twenty minutes feels more like an extra short was tacked on to a finished movie. Besides, what other movie do you know has a computer with arms, a unicorn, AND a flame-throwing giant spider?

Cult of the Cobra (1955)

Article #397 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 4-16-2002
Posting date: 9-9-2002

Six soldiers are caught sneaking into the temple of a cult of cobra-worshippers, and are cursed. After they return to the States, they begin dying one by one, and it’s all tied to the presence of a mysterious woman.

The first twenty minutes of this movie, in which the soldiers visit the temple, is the best and most exciting part of the movie; even the temple dance is better than you might expect, though it doesn’t look at all like a native ritual dance. Unfortunately, the movie becomes singularly dull once the action moves to the States; there are too many scenes of scared animals, too many long sequences where we’re supposed to be on the edge of our seats waiting for something to happen, and too many long talky sections which slow the pace to a crawl. Though it’s admirable that they try to give the mysterious woman some dimension, it really doesn’t work because we never achieve any intimacy with the character; the movie tries to have it both ways and ends up having it with neither. The cast includes Richard Long, Faith Domergue (the trailer finally helped me to figure out how to pronounce her last name), and David Janssen.

Return of the Vampire (1944)

Article #396 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 4-15-2002
Posting date: 9-8-2002

When a vampire’s body is unearthed by a bombing raid on England during WW2, his stake is removed and he is reburied. He rises from the dead, and with the help of his werewolf compatriot, begins a reign of terror.

The fact that the movie takes place in contemporary England, and the fact that the vampire’s assistant is a werewolf are the primary novelties of this movie, which in other respects is pretty much your typical vampire movie with all the usual trimmings. Still, the primary emotion I felt about watching the movie was quite simple and unexpected; I found myself charmed by the whole thing. It almost ODs on atmosphere (that low-lying ground fog is everywhere, including indoors at times) and the surprises are few, but there is plenty of energy and fun in the proceedings, with even the comic relief being sharper than usual. Though I wouldn’t call it a great movie, it is a lot of fun, and features a good strong performance by Lugosi to add to the mix.

The Raven (1915)

THE RAVEN (1915)
Article #395 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 4-14-2002
Posting date: 9-7-2002

The life and times of Edgar Allan Poe, plus a rendition of his most famous poem.

This movie was based on a stage play, and it appears to be more or less a biography of Poe. As such, it seems arbitrary and often pointless, with fantasy elements that seem curious but unenlightening. The centerpiece is a visual retelling of “The Raven”, but I don’t find it particularly interesting. In fact, the whole movie just seems a bit of a mess, frustrating and unfocused, though I suspect the movie may not be complete, as there are some plot elements that make no sense to me at all, particularly a part near the end involving an old man. As it is, I award the movie the Confused Shrug award.

The Climax (1944)

Article #394 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 4-13-2002
Posting date: 9-6-2002

An opera singer loses her voice when she becomes involved with a doctor who believes her voice belonged to the woman he loved and which he is intent on silencing.

This movie marked Karloff’s return to Universal in the forties, and I have no doubt they thought they were doing him a favor by putting him in such a classy production, what with the color and the opera and everything. It’s a pity they didn’t come up with a better story; this largely comes across as a blatant attempt by Universal to repeat the success of their earlier PHANTOM OF THE OPERA rather than to produce a good horror movie. So we have lots of pretty colors, lots of beautiful scenery, lots and lots of opera, Karloff and Gale Sondergaard both wasted, and a story which ends up revolving around an opera singer being obsessed with an atomizer. Altogether, it is easy to see why this was perhaps the least of the movies Karloff made for the studio, despite the budget.

Chamber of Horrors (1940)

Article #393 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 4-12-2002
Posting date: 9-5-2002

Strange events surround the death of a rich man and his burial with his jewels in a tomb with a door with seven locks.

I find this Edgar Wallace mystery interesting enough, though sometimes a little confusing, and I’m not yet quite sure if the whole story hangs together. There is an entertaining array of characters involved in the story, but it is one of those that may require a checklist to keep everyone straight. Leslie Banks plays the evil Dr. Manetti, and when he gives a tour of the items in his collection of torture devices, you have a pretty good idea of where the last scenes of the movie will be taking place. It’s worth a watch, though it does get a little too cute at times and a little dull at others.

The Blood of Nostradamus (1961)

Article #392 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 4-11-2002
Posting date: 9-4-2002

The blood-sucking vampire Nostradamus pits himself against a doctor intent on destroying him.

The Nostradamus in this series of movies was not the man who made predictions of the future; he is a vampire who announces who his next victims will be and dares his archenemy to stop him.

The four movies were built from episodes of a Mexican serial, and this is the fourth of the four. It has the advantage of actually having an ending that isn’t ambiguous, as the other three do. These movies certainly don’t have much of a reputation; the awful dubbing certainly has something to do with it, especially in the case of the Hunchback named Leo, who sounds a little too close to Goofy for his own good. Being episodes of a serial strung together in a feature is also not a strength; it’s always a good idea to remind yourself that you’re watching a serial rather than a complete movie. Still, if you get past these barriers, it’s not too bad; the characters are more interesting than you expect, and Nostradamus (German Robles) is unexpectedly vulnerable at times. Still, if you decide to watch the series as a whole, this one isn’t the place to start, as there are several plot points that you won’t be privy to; the order of the movies is CURSE OF NOSTRADAMUS, THE MONSTERS DEMOLISHER, THE GENIE OF DARKNESS and this one. Give the series a little patience, and it just may grow on you.

Back from the Dead (1957)

Article #391 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 4-10-2002
Posting date: 9-3-2002

A woman is possessed by the spirit of her husband’s first wife, an evil temptress. It’s all tied with a mysterious devil worship cult on the island.

This potentially interesting idea is a little like a cross between two Bert I. Gordon films, TORMENTED and NECROMANCY; it’s particularly reminiscent of the former, with its lapping waves and dead lover motifs; unfortunately, the movie is hoodwinked by terribly dull direction and a badly muddled script. There are too many scenes of people visiting the couple and being treated coldly by the possessed wife, and there are a number of events in the movie that either lead nowhere or abruptly come out of nowhere; the script definitely needed a rewrite. A check at IMDB indicates that the director mostly worked on westerns; he certainly doesn’t feel at ease here in the horror genre. It also contains the worst “someone’s favorite song” that I’ve had the misfortune to hear; it’s fast, aggressive, jazzy, horrific and horribly annoying, but at least it doesn’t have lyrics, and you’ll be glad when the record gets smashed.