Destination Inner Space (1966)

DESTINATION INNER SPACE (1966)
Article #970 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-10-2003
Posting Date: 4-8-2004
Directed by Francis D. Lyon
Featuring Scott Brady, Sheree North, Gary Merrill

Inhabitants of an underwater sea lab are threatened by an extraterrestrial aquatic menace.

You know, I have to admit to having liked the title to this one; because I wasn’t sure what “Inner Space” meant or why we’d want to go there, I though I’d find a movie that would explain what it was and take us there would be at least a little interesting. Unfortunately, it turned out that “Inner Space” was merely an enticing term for the ocean depths, and what we have here can be summed up as simply a cross between THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD), THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE and THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. This in itself isn’t a bad idea, but everything about this one is hackneyed and uninspired; you’ve seen these conflicts a thousand times before, the monster suit is fairly lame, and there isn’t a single real surprise to be found during the length of the movie. And though it doesn’t appear to be a TV-Movie, between the connect-the-dots storytelling and the perpetual edge-of-your-seat soundtrack, it sure feels like one. It’s not awful, but it never rises above the merely competent, and my primary feeling at the end of this one is that I hope everyone got their paychecks for this.

The Last Reunion (1955)

THE LAST REUNION (1955)
Article #969 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-9-2003
Posting Date: 4-7-2004
Directed by Leonard Brett
Featuring Eric Portman, Michael Gough, Basil Appleby

The survivors of the crew of a bomber raid get together yearly to reminisce about their commander, the only man to die in the raid. However, one of the members feels the ghostly presence of the commander during these reunions.

Basically, this plays like an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” and at 53 minutes, runs no longer than one of the hour-long episodes of the series. I suspect that if it had been done as an episode, it would have most likely been reduced to one of the shorter episodes, though; the first half of the movie is quite talky, with a great deal of speculation on the nature of death and the role of grieving. This talk can be quite fascinating in its way, and it allows us to get to know the various characters, so they have a certain dimension to them before we reach the central dramatic moment of the story where the characters recreate the mission; this sequence makes very effective use of sound and lighting to add to its drama. It’s all anchored by an excellent performance by Michael Gough; this movie demonstrates exactly how great an actor he is. The ending is effective and very sad indeed. It’s recommended for TZ fans with an interest in philosophy.

The Jungle Book (1942)

THE JUNGLE BOOK (1942)
Article #968 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-8-2003
Posting Date: 4-6-2004
Directed by Zoltan Korda
Featuring Sabu, Joseph Calleia, John Qualen

A boy is lost in the jungle where he is raised by wolves. He returns to his own village years later and tries to adjust to the human world.

I’ve never had the privilege of reading the Rudyard Kipling novel, but one of the very first movies I remember seeing as a child was the Disney version of this story. I can’t say whether either of them is particularly faithful to the book, but I do think it kind of interesting that they tell two different stories; in fact, this version feels something like a sequel to the later version, with the story really beginning in this one after Mowgli’s return to his own people, the event which marked the end of the later version. The two movies also come to different conclusions about Mowgli’s proper place in the world. This one is very colorful indeed, and Sabu gives a great and impassioned performance as Mowgli. The animal scenes are exciting, though you can tell the faked animals from the real one, but it works well enough anyway. Nonetheless, I’m always thrown off a little whenever I see John Qualen appear as something other than a Norwegian; here he is an Indian barber.

The Unholy Night (1929)

THE UNHOLY NIGHT (1929)
Article #967 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-7-2003
Posting Date: 4-5-2004
Directed by Lionel Barrymore
Featuring Ernest Torrence, Roland Young, Dorothy Sebastian

Someone is killing off the members of a regiment, and a Scotland Yard inspector believes the culprit may be one of the remaining members.

Once again we hit a movie that was directed by someone better known as an actor, in this case, Lionel Barrymore. Actually, it’s kind of difficult to really gauge his success in this enterprise, as this is one of those early talkies that is somewhat stiff and static due to the limitations that were imposed by early sound techniques. Nonetheless, this one is fairly watchable, largely due to a fairly decent story with a surprising number of clever twists, a witty script from a Ben Hecht story, and a fun performance by Roland Young. The movie also features an uncredited performance by Boris Karloff in the pivotal role of Abdoul, and sadly, it just isn’t one of Karloff’s shining moments. Karloff had considerable talents, but he was not a master of accents, and the Arabian accent (I think that’s what is was supposed to be) not only makes him sound unnatural, but it appears to have resulted in a certain degree of overacting as well. The horror elements become quite marked as the movie progresses, especially during a particularly effective seance sequence near the end of the movie. All in all, one of the better early talkies I’ve seen.

Judex (1916)

JUDEX (1916)
(Serial)
Article #966 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-6-2003
Posting Date: 4-4-2004
Directed by Louis Feuillade
Featuring Rene Creste, Musidora, Rene Poven

Judex fights against the evil banker Flavreux and his assistant Diana Monti.

Adventures in moviehunting: Feuillade’s LES VAMPIRES is a recently restored easy-to-find French serial that is available with English titles. Does this one appear on my hunt list? No. Instead, Feuillade’s preceeding serial FANTOMAS and his subsequent one JUDEX pop up on my hunt list, both of which are deucedly difficult to find, and when they are found, have French title cards. At least FANTOMAS (which consisted of five feature-length episodes) was in wonderful shape and fairly easy to understand; JUDEX is in pretty poor condition and is almost impenetrable if you don’t have command of the French language. Yet I feel fortunate to have even found it in the first place. Go figure.

In short, I haven’t been able to gleen what’s going on in this serial, though I have read a few things. Favraux is mentioned as the main villain, though he appears to have been captured by Judex in the first episode and spends most of the serial locked in a cell where Judex watches him over a television screen (the only real fantastic element of the plot); the main criminal activity seems to be from the Diana Monti character, and most of the time, I have no idea just what she’s up to. There are still some engaging sequences here and there; in particular, a sequence where Judex uses a gang of dogs to help him out is fairly memorable and quite amusing. Nonetheless, I will have little to say about this one until I can learn to read French. Maybe it’s time to do so…

A Scream in the Night (1935)

A SCREAM IN THE NIGHT (1935)
Article #965 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-5-2003
Posting Date: 4-3-2004
Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer
Featuring Lon Chaney Jr., Sheila Terry, Manuel Lopez

When a valuable jewel is stolen by a notorious thief who engages in strangulation, a detective disguises himself as a grog shop owner to track down the thief.

I don’t know if this was the first attempt to cash in on Lon Chaney Jr.’s father’s name; almost all of his credits up to that point had been as Creighton Chaney, but here he definitely goes as Lon Chaney Jr., and the credits spotlight him as such. I wouldn’t be surprised, though; since he’s playing two roles, one in ugly makeup, it does come across a little as trying to follow in his father’s footsteps. Unfortunately, the story is pretty ordinary, and neither of Chaney’s roles are particularly interesting; the detective is a fairly typical bland b-movie leading man role, and he tries a little too hard to be memorable as the deformed grog-shop owner to be really effective. This was before he made either THE WOLF MAN or OF MICE AND MEN, so this was before Hollywood really knew how to make effective use of his talents, but it’s really no surprise that he would remain in minor roles for a while yet. Incidentally, the character’s deformity and Chaney’s presence are the only factors in the movie that would cause it to be classified as horror on any level, so this is another one that belongs in the realms of marginalia.

Dante’s Inferno (1935)

DANTE’S INFERNO (1935)
Article #964 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-4-2003
Posting Date: 4-2-2004
Directed by Harry Lachman
Featuring Spencer Tracy, Claire Trevor, Henry B. Walthall

A carnival worker uses his huckster skills to hit the big time, but his thoughtlessness causes tragedy in the lives of those around him.

Dante’s “Inferno” (the poem, not the movie) is the first of the three books that make up “The Divine Comedy”; it largely consists of Virgil giving Dante a tour of hell so he can see the various punishments doled out to evildoers from throughout history. Whatever its merits as a poem, it really doesn’t tell much in the way of a story, and consequently I didn’t really go into this movie expecting any sort of faithful translation of the poem, and I was right. DANTE’S INFERNO (the movie, not the poem) is basically a modern-day drama about a man who keeps cutting the Gordian knot (i.e. taking the moral shortcut) in order to make it to the top; since his first step is in promoting a carnival attraction illustrating moments in the Dante poem, the title does bear some relevance to the story. Amazingly enough, at least one part of the movie does end up in hell; a six-minute montage more than half-way through the movie gives the viewer a vision of hell, and it makes for the highlight of the movie and gives it its most special moment. This is a good thing, since despite the fact that it’s well acted all around and has high production values (particularly during the spectacular final twenty minutes of the movie), the story itself is fairly predictable. Nonetheless, horror fans may well want to tune in for the hell sequence; it really is quite amazing.

Curucu, Beast of the Amazon (1956)

CURUCU, BEAST OF THE AMAZON (1956)
Article #963 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-3-2003
Posting Date: 4-1-2004
Directed by Curt Siodmak
Featuring John Bromfield, Beverly Garland, Tom Payne

A man and a woman go up the Amazon to explore rumors of a murdering monster loose in the rain forest.

This movie is somewhat infamous; almost anyone who has seen it can tell you why, and they usually do. I myself won’t give it away, but I will tell you that if you go in expecting a jungle movie rather than a monster movie, you’ll be much better prepared for it. This is not to say that it’s a particularly good example of the former genre; it’s merely to say if you’re familiar with the way jungle movies work, you’ll know just what you’re getting into here. Lots of safari and lots of talk fill up the running length of the movie. It was shot on location in Brazil, and it probably looks good in color (my copy is in black and white), but as far as I’m concerned, the best thing about it is Beverly Garland, who has the best moments; one in which she flirts with a sloth (no, not John Bromfield), and another in which she “doesn’t” get sick on hearing what’s in the food she’s eating, standing that comic cliche on its head and proving that her character really is tough in her own way. Unfortunately, the movie decides to punish her for her toughness; the last thirty minutes of the movie seems designed solely to frighten this woman into realizing that it’s arrogant of her to think of herself as being as tough as a man; one can almost hear the smug snickerings of the men behind the scenes saying “That’ll show her!”

You know, I really don’t like this movie.

The Witch’s Mirror (1960)

THE WITCH’S MIRROR (1960)
(a.k.a. EL ESPEJO DE LA BRUJA)
Article #962 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-2-2003
Posting Date: 3-31-2004
Directed by Chano Urueta
Featuring Rosa Arenas, Armando Calvo, Isabela Corona

A witch, unable to save her ward from being murdered by her husband, vows to exact vengeance for the murder.

You know, sometimes you have to just sit back and marvel. Starting with a concept from SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (a witch with a magic mirror), we then find ourselves thrown into the standard husband-trying-to-murder-his-wife plot, followed in quick succession by the plots of NIGHTMARE CASTLE (woman haunted by the ghost of husband’s first wife) and EYES WITHOUT A FACE (scientist tries to restore the face of his loved one), followed by hints of a dizzying array of movies such as THE BODY SNATCHER, THE PREMATURE BURIAL, a distaff version of THE HANDS OF ORLAC, and finally (this one I saw coming though it takes a long time for it to manifest itself) THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS. It’s almost as if they threw a bunch of movies in a blender and tried to see what would come out. Furthermore, the bandages on the scarred lady make her look like the lumpy Frankenstein monster in DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN, though admittedly, that one postdates this one. This, combined with the standard K. Gordon Murray dubbing process, makes for a truly surreal movie-watching experience. After a while, you just can’t tear your eyes away because you’re wondering what other movies it will remind you of. It’s all part of the fun of dipping into the wide wonderful world of Mexican horror, where logic as we understand it is truly thrown to the winds. Bizarre, hallucinatory, jaw-dropping, and in its own weird way, essential.

Witchcraft (1964)

WITCHCRAFT (1964)
Article #961 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-1-2003
Posting Date: 3-30-2004
Directed by Don Sharp
Featurng Lon Chaney Jr., Jack Hedley, Jill Dixon

When an ancestral cemetery is plowed over by a bulldozer, a witch who was buried alive arises from her grave to wreak vengeance.

There really aren’t that many surprises in this standard entry in the witch’s revenge/devil worship subgenre of horror. Nonetheless, it’s effective enough, at least partially due to a generally decent level of acting enlivened by a good performance by Lon Chaney Jr. (though he only appears sporadically); actually, he seemed to get better horror roles during the sixties than he did the previous decade. One thing that caught my attention was what I orginally thought was an editing gaff; a woman is driving through a landfill, but the shots through her windshield show her driving through a tree-lined lane. In truth, what she sees through the windshield is merely what she sees in her mind, though I do consider it a case where the movie could have made this a lot clearer; as it is, I didn’t figure it out until the same thing almost happens again later and we get a verbal explanation.