Judex (1916)

JUDEX (1916)
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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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.

Warlords of Atlantis (1978)

Article #960 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-31-2003
Posting Date: 3-29-2004
Directed by Kevin Connor
Featuring Doug McClure, Peter Gilmore, Shane Rimmer

Undersea explorers discover the lost civilization of Atlantis.

This was the fourth and last of several features directed by Kevin Connor and starring Doug McClure that were made in the second half of the decade of the seventies, a time when this sort of adventure story was out of fashion. The other three were based on Edgar Rice Burroughs stories; this one doesn’t seem based on anything in particular, but was no doubt influenced by them. To say that it fails to live up the epic grandeur of its ambitions is somehow missing the point; it largely exists to trot out the monsters, and that’s pretty much what it does. The monster effects aren’t that bad, but the monsters themselves are sometimes a little too sluggish for their own good; compare the octopus here with the squid in 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and you’ll see what I mean. It’s all pretty silly, with the Atlanteans being essentially Nazis under another name, and the plot being nothing but a series of incidents tied together by the thinnest of stories. And just what was Cyd Charisse doing in this one anyway?