Hercules in the Vale of Woe (1961)

Article #450 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 6-8-2002
Posting date: 11-1-2002

Two wrestling promoters travel in time to ancient Greece, where they pit Maciste against Hercules in a wrestling match.

Considering the sheer volume of sword-and-sandal epics that came out of Italy in the later fifties/early sixties, I’m not surprised that at least one of them would be a comic take on the subject. I just wouldn’t expect it to have the words “Vale of Woe” in the title. It’s not even a case of two comic characters popping up in a regular sword-and-sandal story; in this movie, practically everyone is a comedian. Actually, despite (or maybe because) of the substandard dubbing, it is sporadically funny, but that may be pure mathematics; it throws out so many gags that some of them are bound to stick. In fact, some of the jokes work simply because the movie’s moved on to the next one before you’re given a chance to dwell much on it. Still, it is one of those movies you can make frequent visits to the refrigerator in the assurance that you’re not missing much.


L’Atlantide (1932)

Article #449 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 6-7-2002
Posting date: 10-31-2002

A man in the foreign legion discovers the lost civilization of Atlantis in the Sahara desert, and comes under the spell of its queen.

What, we’re back here again? Didn’t we just do this movie some time ago? Yes, and no. During the early years of sound a phenomenon arose whereby certain movies were shot in several versions in different languages; during the silent era, this was not necesary, as merely the title cards needed to be changed. DRACULA (with its alternate Spanish language version) is merely the most famous example; L’ATLANTIDE was shot in three different languages; English, French and German. I’ve already covered the English version (THE MISTRESS OF ATLANTIS); this is the French version, and outside of a few different performers, it is for all practical reasons the same movie; Brigitte Helm appeared in all three, and since her character has very few lines, it wasn’t too much of a problem to have her speak three different languages. Actually, this particular story seems to be giving me a language workout; the 1920 version had Italian title cards, and this French version I have has German subtitles, which makes me suspect that the German version is missing altogether. It’s still a beautiful movie to look at, though I’m sure English-speakers will want to opt for the English language version first to grasp the subtleties of the plot.

The Invisible Ray (1936)

Article #448 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 6-6-2002
Posting date: 10-30-2002

A scientist who discovers a new powerful form of radium becomes enraged when the discovery is passed on to others against his will, and uses the illness he had contracted as a result of contact with the element to kill those responsible.

I’m going to come flat out and say that I’m not a devotee of this particular Karloff/Lugosi collaboration. I get the impression in watching the movie that a real attempt was made to avoid the eccentricities, obliquenesses, excesses and histrionics of either THE BLACK CAT or THE RAVEN; the result is that this movie is so low key and straightforward that it could be described as quite civilized in comparison with the other two. Yet, I’m not sure that horror should be civilized. I don’t mind it being somewhat low-key, but it tells its story in such a unambiguously direct fashion that there’s no sense of mystery left whatsoever, and I think that sense of mystery is necessary to add the intrigue that horror needs. As it is, by the time we get to the murders, we know who is doing it, why he’s doing it, how it’s being done, and how the statues are being destroyed. I think the movie would have been a lot better if the murders started before we knew all this information, and discovered it as we went along. As a science fiction film it works a little better, especially the first fifteen minutes or so; once it settles down into the main story, though, the science fiction elements take a back seat to the horror.

The House That Screamed (1969)

Article #447 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 6-5-2002
Posting date: 10-29-2002

A girl’s school is the setting for a series of murders of girls trying to escape.

All right, it’s question and answer time.

Q. Is the school run by a sadistic and dictatorial headmistress?
A. Yes, it is.

Q. Does she have a sexually repressed son who is also a voyeur, and with whom she has a somewhat incestuous relationship?
A. Yes, she does.

Q. Are all the girls in the school also sexually repressed?
A. Yes, they are.

Q. Is there a secret coterie of lesbian girls who actually control much of what goes on in the school from behind the scenes?
A. Yes, there is.

Q. How long did it take you to read these questions and answers and absorb the information therein.
A. Probably no more than a minute and a half.

Q. How long does this movie dwell on all the above premises before anything happens that really gets the plot moving?
A. About three-quarters of its 100 minute running time; in other words, about seventy-five minutes.

Q. Is this inefficient?
A. I would say yes.

Actually, some of the scenes work quite well, taken individually. As a whole, I’d say it’s more for fans of sexual repression, the aspect of the movie that most of the running time is dedicated to showing.

House of Horrors (1946)

Article #446 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 6-4-2002
Posting date: 10-28-2002

A crazed sculptor befriends a homicidal maniac in order to mold a statue of his face; he also uses him to do away with unfriendly art critics.

First of all, what’s with the title? There have been many movies over the years that could have accurately been called HOUSE OF HORRORS; this isn’t one of them. First of all, the sculptor and the creeper don’t live in a house; they reside in a sculptor’s studio. Secondly, none of the murder’s are committed in the studio; the creeper seems more than willing to visit his victims at their own abodes (maybe it was meant to be called HOUSE CALLS OF HORROR). They could have called it THE CREEPER, but then Jean Yarbrough would have had to rename the movie he made two years later with that title. Still, this is probably all beside the point; this low-budget horror movie is entertaining enough. Martin Kosleck gives a nice performance as the sculptor, and as always, Rondo Hatton’s presence can’t be ignored. His character doesn’t seem to have any real motivation for some of his murders; he says he kills the women because they scream, but he was usually stalking them some time before they actually do this. Still, a more complex character may have been outside Hatton’s range as an actor. Nevertheless, I do believe that a sculptor would have jumped at the chance to use him as a model; there is no doubt that Rondo’s face did indeed have a real sense of power to it, and when the sculptor describes it as beautiful, you can see what he means.

The Face Behind the Mask (1941)

Article #445 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 6-3-2002
Posting date: 10-27-2002

An immigrant’s hopes of making it big in the United States are dashed when he is disfigured in a fire. His scarred face makes him unemployable, and he eventually turns to crime.

Once again we have a movie that gets lumped into horror but really doesn’t belong there; even though his face is horribly scarred (you never get a good look at it), Janos Stavos is certainly no monster, nor does this crime drama ever attempt to be a horror movie. Instead, it provides a top-notch vehicle for Peter Lorre, and he is fantastic in this movie; the scenes where he’s a gangster are not so surprising as the opening ones, in which he is a naive immigrant, giddy and excited at his adventure in coming to America and hoping for great things. The story is not entirely convincing, but with Lorre leading the way, it’s very easy to get caught up in the story and to not notice the flaws. Actually, the movie looks very nice for what was apperently a very inexpensive production. I saw the movie years ago on my local Creature Feature, and the final scenes in the desert have stayed with me ever since. It was directed by Robert Florey.

Eye of the Devil (1967)

Article #444 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 6-2-2002
Posting date: 10-26-2002

The wife of a marquis visits him on his estate against his wishes and discovers strange goings on in the vicinity.

Apparently this movie was cut before its initial release, which may explain why it’s somewhat muddled. Still, it has one of those solid horror premises in which someone finds themselves in a strange isolated community with odd beliefs (the same basic setup as THE WICKER MAN), and you expect a little confusion to be part of the story. This would have worked if it had built up to a satisfying ending, but once it was all over, I felt let down and disappointed, not because of how it chose to end but rather because that was all there was to it. So the movie seems to be missing something; the mystery in itself isn’t elaborate enough to sustain the length. What I think is missing is character; there are very few people in the movie that seem to exist as human beings; I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the actors in the movie saw their characters as existing solely to creep out the wife, and in order to make the whole thing more compelling, they need more humanity and dimension. As it is, the movie spends way too much time trying to be creepy, and there are way too many scenes of villagers just standing stock still and staring at people; you keep hoping someone will at least scratch themselves or something.

The Empire of Dracula (1967)

Article #443 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 6-1-2002
Posting date: 10-25-2002

Travelers stay at Dracula’s castle and find themselves in peril.

Impressive title, huh? Since it’s mostly a rehash of the situation in DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS, maybe they wanted it to sound as regal as that one. At heart, though, it’s just your basic vampire flick, and unless there is a wealth of subtleties hidden in the Spanish dialogue that I would need subtitles to understand (it’s in Spanish, undubbed and unsubtitled), it doesn’t really add anything new to the Dracula canon, unless you count seeing his name listed as Draculstein in a book. As it is, the most impressive scene is a fight on the top of moving carriage; it must have worked so well that they added a second one at the end of the movie. Incidentally, this was the first color Mexican horror film.

Deathdream (1972)

Article #442 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 5-31-2002
Posting date: 10-24-2002

The soldier son of a couple returns home despite the fact that his death had been reported. They notice that he’s not like he used to be, and unusual murders are starting to be committed in town.

In some ways, this is a companion piece to Director Bob Clark’s and screenwriter Alan Ormsby’s CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS; if that movie was a zombie flesh-eating comedy, this is a zombie flesh-eating tragedy. As such, the characters play a much greater role in this movie than the other one, as do the themes (war, dysfunctional families, etc.). Ultimately, the actions of the zombie son are less compelling than the dilemma of the parents; one is left wondering how the realization of what their son is will effect them. Actually, it’s the father who is the most compelling, because you really don’t know what he’s going to do; mother is fairly predicable once you get her number. Still, one is even more shocked in some ways by the mother’s revelation that she doesn’t care for her daughter than one is by the zombie’s actions. There is a great creepy atmosphere to the movie and some excellent use of sound. This one was a fascinating surprise.

Invisible Agent (1942)

Article #441 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 5-30-2002
Posting date: 10-23-2002

A man who has inherited the formula for invisibility agrees to use his power to aid the allies during World War II.

This science fiction/spy thriller/wartime propaganda movie certainly isn’t much of a science fiction movie; outside of the fact that we have a man who is invisible, it doesn’t really use the idea in anything more than its gimmick capacity. It certainly isn’t much of a spy thriller either; I prefer my spies to have a lot more common sense than this guy shows. In fact, the scene during the dinner, rather than being knee-slappingly funny as intended, merely makes me wonder why nobody bothered to administer an intelligence test to this guy before sending him out on a mission. This leaves the wartime propaganda angle as being where the movie is most effective, and it actually works well enough on that level, particularly during a scene where the Nazis try to get one of their prisoners to sign a paper claiming he was well treated; this ironic moment makes for propaganda as effective as it can be.