The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)

Article #1183 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-10-2004
Posting Date: 11-7-2004
Directed by Sidney Lanfield
Featuring Richard Greene, Basil Rathbone, Wendy Barrie

Sherlock Holmes is called in to investigate a curse on the house of the Baskervilles that may have caused the death of the current lord of the manor.

This wasn’t the first version of the classic Sherlock Holmes novel; I have several other versions on my hunt list that predate it. However, it’s the earliest one I’ve been able to find at this point, and it may be one of the most significant, as it introduced us to the actors who would become the most famous for the roles of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson; Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. It’s also one of the most horror-oriented of the Sherlock Holmes movies, partly due to the fact that the ancestral curse storyline is the stuff of horror, and partly due to the moody scenes on the moor. It’s also fairly faithful to the novel, though that does create one frustrating situation, and that is that Holmes himself is missing from the story for a good stretch of the running time; this may explain why Richard Greene got higher billing as Sir Henry Baskerville. Horror fans will also want to note the presence of Lionel Atwill and John Carradine in significant roles. I also took note of the name of Eily Malyon, who plays Mrs. Berryman; I’d never known her name before, but I distinctly remembered her face, and a quick note of her credits shows that she appeared in DRACULA’S DAUGHTER, THE UNDYING MONSTER and SHE-WOLF OF LONDON. Bruce and Rathbone aren’t quite as relaxed with each other here as they would be in later entries of the series, but that’s to be expected in the first of what would prove to be a successful series.

Espionage in Tangier (1965)

(a.k.a. MARC MATO, AGENTE S.077)
Article #1182 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-9-2004
Posting Date: 11-6-2004
Directed by Gregg C. Tallas
Featuring Luis Davila, Jose Greci, Perla Cristal

When a scientist develops a powerful ray gun, it is stolen, and superspy Mike Murphy is sent out to recover it.

At the time of writing this review this movie is sitting with a 9.5 rating on IMDB. I guess this proves that I just don’t get the genre, because I thoroughly disliked it. The opening of the movie is actually quite good; within a two-minute period we actually see four double-crosses and the resulting four deaths; this all happens so fast that it’s the comic highlight of the movie. Unfortunately, I should have turned it off then; between the unpleasant hero (he’s no good at double entendres so he gets women to sleep with him by slapping them around), the dull car chases, the sometimes sadistic violence and torture, and a horribly lame ending, this was one of the most unsatisfactory trips I’ve ever had into these low-budget Bond rip-offs. The movie’s full length is 92 minutes; my version only runs sixty. I consider this a blessing. Your mileage may be better if you’re a fan of this type of movie, or if the prospect of keeping your eyes pealed for a pre-Bond George Lazenby seems like a good time to you.

Oh, and did I mention the soundtrack? I can’t decide which movie music is worse; the one-fingered piano playing or that shrill warbling noise that pops up occasionally.

Hands of a Stranger (1962)

Article #1181 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-8-2004
Posting Date: 11-5-2004
Directed by Newt Arnold
Featuring James Stapleton, Paul Lukather, Joan Harvey

When a pianist’s hands are crushed in a car accident, a surgeon decides to replace them with the hands of an unidentified murder victim.

Though the source is not credited, this is for all practical reasons another take on “The Hands or Orlac”; whether the resemblance is the result of plagiarism or coincidence is open to question. I do know that the most memorable scene in the other versions of the story (in which Orlac is confronted by a man with mechanical hands) is not present in this one. Actually, this results in an interesting ambiguity; the murder victim who supplies the hands is not identified; though it is speculated that he may have been a murderer, there is no confirmation of this. In fact, the movie does play with some interesting ideas; for example, it remains somewhat ambiguous on the subject of the moral questionability of transplants, and one senses that there is some intelligence at work here. The movie also has a strong opening, and a nice final scene (though the replacement of “The End” with the phrase “The Past is the Prologue” does leave me scratching my head). However, the movie has some major problems. The acting is horribly uneven, and the dialogue is painfully overwritten; instead of talking with each other, the characters make speeches at each other and every idea is regurgitated up again and again ad nauseum. Still, I can’t help but like it a little; each of the versions of the Orlac story have gone in different directions, and it’s fascinating to compare them.

Guess What Happened to Count Dracula (1970)

Article #1180 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-7-2004
Posting Date: 11-4-2004
Directed by Laurence Merrick
Featuring Des Roberts, Claudia Barron, John Landon

A woman comes under the spell of a vampire known as Count Adrian.

The title implies that this movie will tell us what happened to Count Dracula. It does no such thing; Count Adrian is actually the son of Dracula. Yes, I know; that was Count Alucard in another movie, but not in this one. However, there is a character named Alucard; he’s Count Adrian’s pet tiger, who likes to play with the vampires when they’re not cavorting in their sacred Macumba ceremony, in which a woman dances until she entices a man into eating a lizard. This also involves a man in a gorilla suit wearing a pendant; IMDB doesn’t credit the man in the gorilla suit, but I sure know Charley Gemora’s suit when I see it. Highlights of this movie: two vampires have a staredown, Des Roberts is offered a beer, but says “I only drink blood…bloody marys”, and a nurse decides she wants to do it with the doctor on his desk (and you’ll find out what “it” is for yourself.) Des Roberts actually uses a Bela Lugosi accent in portraying Count Adrian. Conclusions: I think this might have been a comedy, but it’s hard to tell. One thing is for sure; it’s a lot classier than the other movie on the DVD (DRACULA, THE DIRTY OLD MAN), but that’s like saying that it’s shorter than SHOAH.

Oh, and did I mention that Count Adrian runs a swinging nightclub known as Dracula’s Castle?

The Gorgon (1964)

Article #1179 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-6-2004
Posting Date: 11-3-2004
Directed by Terence Fisher
Featuring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley

People are being turned to stone in an East European village, and a man whose dead son was held responsible for the murders vows to investigate.

I go into this movie with two prejudices. First, the gorgon has always been one of those creatures that to me seems out of place anywhere but in Greek mythology, and it seems just odd to me to find the creature appearing in this more Gothic setting. However, this is a minor quibble, and one that I can easily set aside if all else works.

The other prejucide has to do with bringing the Gorgon to life. The Gorgon is one of the most memorable monsters ever devised, and I believe if you’re going to try to bring this creature to life, you’d better do it right. In other words, you’d better deliver on the “snakes for hair” issue. At the time this movie was made, that would have required stop-motion animation, and this was obviously beyond Hammer’s means. So what we get is an unconvincing mask with snakes that occasionally bob up and down, and though that was probably the best they could have done on their budget, I find it thoroughly unsatisfying. I think they would have been better off making this movie about a different monster altogether.

That being said, the movie works well enough on many other levels. The acting is fine, with Cushing at his usual level of excellence and Christopher Lee giving a fairly energetic performance. I didn’t even recognize Patrick Troughton as the Inspector; despite having a truly memorable face and having gained fame for playing the Doctor in “Doctor Who”, he somehow manages to look very different in his other roles. The movie is deliberately paced, but never becomes dull. The script is a little contrived at times (the only reason Peter Cushing shows up with a sword rather than some other weapon in the final scene is because it proves convenient for the end of the movie), but this is a minor problem. What the movie really needs is a convincing monster.

Goliath and the Dragon (1960)

Article #1178 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-5-2004
Posting Date: 11-2-2004
Directed by Vittorrio Cottafavi
Featuring Mark Forest, Broderick Crawford, Gaby Andre

Goliath faces off against a usurper who is planning an invasion of Thebes.

Now here’s what I like in a sword-and-sandal movie; a muscleman who fights off mythological beasties as well as evil tyrants. As Goliath, Mark Forest takes on a three-headed dog, a shaggy bat-person, a centaur, a bear, an elephant, and the dragon of the title. Of course, the foes aren’t equally believable; the three-headed dog looks like a big puppet (as does the dragon half of the time), the bat-person, the bear and the centaur are humans in costumes (and the centaur is only seen in his full form at a distance), but the dragon is stop-motion animated for half of its screen time, and the elephant (of all things) is real! Granted, the elephant battle wasn’t to the death, but it still makes for an impressive scene. The plot is fairly coherent, Mark Forest is fun in the title role (though I don’t know why they changed his character’s name to Goliath; in the original version, he was Hercules), and the presence of Broderick Crawford adds a bizarre little touch to the proceedings. All in all, this is one of the better sword and sandal movies I’ve seen, and I would recommend it to anyone seeking to try one of them out.

Female Vampire (1973)

Article #1177 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-4-2004
Posting Date: 11-1-2004
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Lina Romay, Jack Taylor, Alice Arno

A female vampire is on the loose sucking the life out of her victims.

Yes, folks, it’s Jess/Jesus Franco again. I wish I could describe this as a vampire movie with sex in it, but in truth it’s a sex movie with a little vampirism in it. It’s one hour and forty-five minutes long, and if you take the sex out, it would probably run about 15 minutes or so. Those fifteen minutes consist of the movie’s efforts to convince me it had some sort of story.

The movie did inspire me to do a little research, and I’ve decided to share the results of that research.

Larry Buchanan directed 29 movies.
Ed Wood directed 18 movies.
Andy Milligan directed 27 movies.
Herschell Gordon Lewis directed 37 movies.
Phil Tucker directed 7 movies.

Now, I think Jesse Franco is probably more competent than any of those directors. Nonetheless, this movie has convinced me of one thing, and that is that Franco is a director who will probably end up wasting my time far more than those other directors (though I may revise that statement when I actually see an Andy Milligan film). And when you consider that he’s directed 182 films (not all of which are fantastically themed, but I’m willing to bet a significant ratio of them will qualify), I start to get an inkling of just how much time he could take up.

Oh, and one more stat: Franco has more than sixty nom-de-plumes. That must be some sort of record.

Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

Article #1176 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-3-2004
Posting Date: 10-31-2004
Directed by John Boorman
Featuring Linda Blair, Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher

A priest investigates the death of Father Merrin, and discovers more about the nature of the demon that possessed Regan MacNeil.

In some ways, I really admire what this movie was trying to do, and that was to not merely repeat the formula of the first movie. Unfortunately, it fails to really find a coherent story of its own, and despite some flashy special effects at times, this mixture of exorcism, African demons, locusts and hypnotic gadgets never really gels into anything solid; the movie remains vague, unfocused, and quite unscary. One of the big problems I have with the movie is the acting, particularly from the three leads. Richard Burton does all right half the time, but the rest of the time he seems twitchy and confused. Louise Fletcher appears to be bored out of her skull for most of the movie. The worst problem, though, is Linda Blair; whereas in the first movie she was largely a vehicle for the special effects, here she is required to have a fully developed and complex character, and she just doesn’t deliver. Every time the camera gives her a close-up, I can’t read any emotions in her face whatsoever, and as a viewer, it left me completely frustrated. And whoever thought it would be scary to have evil manifest itself as a plague of locusts should sit down and watch THE BEGINNING OF THE END sometime and find out just how unscary grasshoppers are.

Godzilla Vs. the Sea Monster (1966)

Article #1175 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-2-2004
Posting Date: 10-30-2004
Directed by Jun Fukuda
Featuring Akira Takarada, Kumi Mizuno, Chotaro Togin

While on a search to discover the whereabouts of a missing man, several people find themselves stranded on an island guarded by a giant shrimp.

Jun Fukuda made a valiant attempt here to move the Godzilla series in a new direction by incorporating him into a story with a more conventional action-oriented plot. I admire the effort, and it is at least partially successful; it’s well-paced and fun in its own way. However, there are problems. Logic seems to have been thrown out the window here; the scene where the good guys try to break into a vault only to discover it’s a nuclear reactor is just plain silly, and when a new captor suggests to the enslaved natives that they should sabotage the Red Bamboo (for whom they have been crushing fruit to produce a yellowish liquid designed to keep Ebirah at bay) by creating the liquid from the leaves rather than the fruit, I find myself asking two questions: 1) Wouldn’t the leaves be green and wouldn’t the Red Bamboo notice the change in color? and 2) why doesn’t the Red Bamboo have even one guard monitoring the activities of the slaves?

My biggest problem with the movie, though, is that Godzilla himself seems like an unnecessary character. Ebirah is essential to the plot (even if he’s a pretty lame foe for Godzilla), and Mothra has an important role to play towards the end, but as for Godzilla, I feel he was just shoehorned into the material. The discovery of his presence seems arbitrary, the decision to revive him is downright dunderheaded, and once he’s in the action, the movie doesn’t really know what to do with him. His tennis match with Ebirah is a repeat of a similar scene in GHIDRAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER, and the sequence where he tries to get some sleep only to be menaced by a giant condor and some jet planes seems like awkward filler. And though he serves some purpose in destroying the Red Bamboo camp, it’s a real disappointment seeing him stomp on a few small buildings when you can remember his destruction of whole cities in earlier movies. Though I wouldn’t call this the weakest of the Godzilla movies, it’s the one where he seems to play the smallest role.

The Giant Behemoth (1959)

Article #1174 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-1-2004
Posting Date: 10-29-2004
Directed by Douglas Hickox and Eugene Lourie
Featuring Gene Evans, Andre Morell, John Turner

A radioactive monster is found near the coast of Cornwall, which then makes its way to the heart of London.

The U.S. title of this movie is an example of redundancy; a behemoth is by definition “giant”. Unfortunately, this movie is itself a little redundant, being as it is largely a rehash of THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS from the director of that movie (who would go on to repeat himself one more time with GORGO). On its own terms, it’s a fair movie, but it definitely suffers in comparison to its model. For one thing, the Behemoth is simply not as impressive as the Rhedosaurus; not only is it not as well animated, but it looks a bit rubbery and feels more like a model. This may account somewhat for the fact that the monster is kept largely under wraps for the first two-thirds of the movie, which in itself is a bit dullish except for the sequences in Cornwall. The ending is also less satisfying; the submarine vs. monster sequence that ends the movie has none of the visual splendor of the Rhedosaurus-in-the-amusement-park climax to its predecessor. Even the monster attack sequence is a bit repetitive; most of this sequence consists of scenes of people running intercut with closeups of the monster roaring, and only occasionally do we see the monster and the people in the same shot. And not only does it copy the shot from the original of the Rhedosaurus stepping on a car, it does so three times. Again, the movie is competent enough, but given the choice, I would opt for THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS anytime.