Darkest Africa (1936)

Article #1258 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-24-2004
Posting Date: 1-21-2005
Directed by B. Reeves Eason and Joseph Kane
Featuring Clyde Beatty, Manuel King, Elaine Shepherd

An animal trainer undertakes to help a young jungle boy rescue his sister from the clutches of a power-hungry high priest from the lost city of Joba.

If my sources are correct, this was the first Republic serial, and even at this point I can see a marked improvement over the previous Clyde Beatty serial, THE LOST JUNGLE. This time the curiosity value is upped a notch by the inclusion not only of Beatty, but of Manuel King (“The Youngest Animal Trainer of All Time”) as the jungle boy. The fantastic elements are much more pronounced here, as the lost city of Joba is inhabited largely by winged flying men known as Bat Men. Watching them on the wing is actually quite a bit of fun, even if you can tell they’re obviously miniatures in some scenes (though not all) and certain flying sequences are repeated ad infinitum (spot how many times we see the same shot of a Bat Men flying away from us with leafless trees in the background). The guys playing the Bat Men don’t get credited by name, though; they are listed simply as Bat Men in the credits. For that matter, neither does Ray “Crash” Corrigan, who is billed (as he was in ZAMBA) by the name of the gorilla he plays (in this case, “Bonga”). For those who remember THE LOST JUNGLE, there is no sign of Syd Saylors in this one (the guy with the bobbing necktie), but the comic relief character Hambone is painful, and you can be thankful that he appears only intermittently.

The Psycho Lover (1970)

Article #1257 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-23-2004
Posting Date: 1-20-2005
Directed by Robert Vincent O’Neill
Featuring Lawrence Montaigne, Jo Anne Meredith, Frank Cuva

A psychiatrist with marital problems takes on a psychotic who commits murder against women, but thinks he’s only dreaming the murders.

Here’s the set-up. The psycho has a hatred of women (brought on, of course, by his relationship with his mother), and must kill them when the voice inside his head tells him to. The psychiatrist is in love with his mistress, but his bitter hard-drinking wife (now there’s an original character) refuses to give him a divorce. Now, given that the psychiatrist wants to get rid of his wife, and has a woman-killing psycho for a patient, what kind of plan do you think he’s going to concoct? And given what you know about cinematic irony, what do you think is actually going to happen? Answer these two questions correctly (I figured out the first one twenty minutes into the movie and the second one at the halfway point), and you have your movie. Whether you would wish to see the movie once you’ve figured these things out largely depends on your taste for sleazy rape scenes and interminable romantic interlude scenes (the latter to romantic soft-rock songs). It also depends on whether you consider the brainwashing sequence to be clever or stupid; sadly, I lean towards the latter. As for the story itself, it moves at snail speed. This one is for fans of sleazy exploitation.

Privilege (1967)

Article #1256 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-22-2004
Posting Date: 1-19-2005
Directed by Peter Watkins
Featuring Paul Jones, Jean Shrimpton, Mark London

In the near future, a pop star is being manipulated by the government in an attempt to control the potentially violent youth of the nation.

This is only the second movie I’ve seen by Peter Watkins; the other one is PUNISHMENT PARK. Though I liked the pseudo-documentary style there, I thought that movie was painfully predictable; I knew exactly how it was going to end five minutes into the movie. This one is much richer; it’s more unpredictable, and it’s satirical jabs seem sharper and more effective. It’s also anchored by a great performance by Paul Jones, who was the lead vocalist for Manfred Mann. The movie isn’t subtle, but it is thought-provoking, and even slightly humorous at times. It is somewhat dated, but I do think that some of its messages are still relevant, especially those involving political use of mass media and the way fan worship can have a soul-sucking effect on a celebrity. The scene near the end of the movie where the singer receives an award is great.

Prehistoric Women (1967)

Article #1255 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-21-2004
Posting Date: 1-18-2005
Directed by Michael Carreras
Featuring Martine Beswick, Edina Ronay, Michael Latimer

A jungle guide is captured by white rhino worshippers when he trespasses on their domain, and then finds himself transported back in time to a world where brunettes enslave men and blonde women.

In a word, this is silly. Not that my saying so will change anybody’s mind about this one. After all, it’s full of beautiful women in skimpy costumes, and this is usually enough to entice half the population into wanting to watch it anyway. There’s silly native music and dancing, but you already knew that, didn’t you? Two comments: despite the presence of the word “Prehistoric” in the title, don’t strain your eyes looking for anything resembling a dinosaur. The closest you get is a rather unconvincing rhino. Second comment: this movie has what may be the single strangest method of transportation through time that I have ever encountered; our jungle guide travels through time after stroking the horn on the statue of the white rhinoceros. But then, of course, I’m only assuming it’s travel through time because of the movie title; it certainly doesn’t look like time travel to me. At any rate, the lesson is obvious – Be Careful What You Touch.

The Flame Barrier (1958)

Article #1254 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-20-2004
Posting Date: 1-17-2005
Directed by Paul Landres
Featuring Arthur Franz, Kathleen Crowley, Robert Brown

A woman finances an expedition through a South American jungle to try to locate her husband, who went there to search for evidence of a downed rocket.

The opening sequence of this movie involves the launching of a rocket; since it consists entirely of stock footage, we’re spared from having to sort out any of the characters. Then we have a narrator telling us plot information that we can easily glean through the ensuing action. It’s only then that the movie really shows its colors; it’s none other than our old friend, the Double-Stuffed Safari-O. We have the spunky but beautiful woman who insists on financing a jungle expedition despite the fact that the rainy season is about to start, and we have the mercenary safari guide who initially doesn’t get along with the woman (read: romantic pairing). We have the safari guide’s hard-drinking brother who is seeking to prove his worth and also really likes the woman (read: fifth wheel destined to take himself out of the romantic fray via an act of self sacrifice). Then we have a handful of natives (read: monster fodder). Throw in a few stray animals to scare the woman, and the occasional death scene to keep reminding us that there’s something scary at the end of the road. The monster itself is pretty lame, and I can never quite figure out how it was able to kill the natives earlier in the movie when I look at its state near the end of the movie. All in all, it would be pretty easy to dismiss this one, but the cast is likable enough, and I was in a congenial mood when I watched it, it was actually a little fun just to let the routine plot unfold in its own predictable way. My major complaint: they killed off the chimp far too quickly.

Earth II (1971)

EARTH II (1971)
Article #1253 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-19-2004
Posting Date: 1-16-2005
Directed by Tom Gries
Featuring Gary Lockwood, Anthony Franciosa, Scott Hylands

A space station called Earth II must cope with a Chinese satellite harboring nuclear warheads.

I think the movie gods are trying to teach me a lesson for taking potshots at yesterday’s movie CHOSEN SURVIVORS. This seems to be its polar opposite; instead of taking place underground during a nuclear holocaust, this one takes place in the new frontier of outer space where hope of a new vision of humanity reigns supreme. Instead of having unpleasant characters yell at each other all the time, this one has pleasant people talking nicely to each other in normal tones of voice. And instead of a hysterically dark view of human nature, this one gives us a bland feel-good view of man and his future. Unfortunately, the key word here is bland; this movie not only courts blandness, it’s married it and made a lifelong commitment to it. It also, like many science fiction movies of the era, borrows a lot of its style from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (also note the presence of Gary Lockwood), and like so many others that tried the same trick, it has no clue as to why that style was appropriate for that movie and deadly for others. One example of its wrongheadedness; whereas the extended docking sequence in 2001 was shot like with a ballet-like lyricism to the strains of “The Blue Danube Waltz”, this one is shot flatly to the strains of some anonymous elevator music. I’m not sure whether it’s a theatrical release or a TV-Movie; IMDB lists it as the latter, but also points out that it had a theatrical rating (G, or course). I’m opting for TV-Movie, myself; this one has “pilot for potential TV series” written all over it. I’m just grateful it wasn’t picked up.

By the way, the main character is named David Seville. Despite this, the Chipmunks do not show up. This is a pity; they would have helped this one immensely.

Chosen Survivors (1974)

Article #1252 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-18-2004
Posting Date: 1-15-2005
Directed by Rafael Portillo and Sutton Roley
Featuring Jackie Cooper, Alex Cord, Richard Jaeckel

A group of people are placed in an underground complex to survive the onset of thermonuclear war, but find that the complex has been invaded by bloodthirsty vampire bats.

Question and answer time, folks!

Q: Why does this seventies science fiction movie shy away from dealing with the human conflicts and situations of people dealing with a crisis situation and turn into a movie about killer bats?
A: Because it’s easier to make a killer bat movie than one about human conflicts.

Q: If it’s really a killer bat movie, why the elaborate apocalyptic science-fiction setup?
A: So they can also have a trendy science fiction movie with which to make depressingly bleak comments about humanity, thus giving the movie greater commercial appeal to those who aren’t into killer bat movies.

Q: With the survival of the human race at stake, why does the government populate this compound largely with emotionally fragile people who crack up easily?
A: Because it’s easier for the killer bats to frighten them.

Q: Why do they drug the people before placing them in the compound?
A: To make them more emotionally fragile so they’ll be even more scared by the bats.

Q: Why do they include an annoying paranoid rich man who drinks too much and attempts to rape one of the women?
A: To demonstrate the dim view they take of humanity.

Q: Why is the paranoid annoying rich man who drinks too much and tries to rape one of the women the one who most accurately assesses the true nature of the situation?
A: Because I think he’s supposed to be the hero. Isn’t that depressing?

Q: Why does the soundtrack mostly consist of electronic pulses and blaring dissonant horns?
A: To annoy us.

Q: Why are the residents greeted every morning by the recording of the upbeat woman who constantly reminds them how well they’re cooperating with each other?
A: See the answer to the above question.

Q: Why does everybody yell at each other?
A.: Because, in some circles, this is considered good acting.

Q: Why did I watch this?
A: Because it was on the list.

Q: Is it better than NIGHTWING!
A: Yes. I had to say something good about it.

Bluebeard’s Ten Honeymoons (1960)

Article #1251 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-17-2004
Posting Date: 1-14-2005
Directed by W. Lee Wilder
Featuring George Sanders, Corinne Calvet, Jean Kent

A Parisian antique dealer falls for a singer, but her expensive tastes causes him to turn to murdering rich widows for their money.

Actually, the title is a bit misleading; as far as I can tell, Landru never gets around to marrying any of these women, preferring to do away with them before the ceremony. It’s a good role for George Sanders, and between his performance and some of the witty touches of the script (in particular, Landru’s obsession of keeping track of his expenses) contribute quite a bit to making this far and away the best W. Lee Wilder movie I’ve seen to date. Its biggest drawback is its sluggish pace, but it does show an improvement for Wilder, and the ending is nicely edited. In terms of its fantastic content, it’s somewhat marginal, but the Landru story is generally considered to fall within the bounds of horror.

Whispering Ghosts (1942)

Article #1250 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-16-2004
Posting Date: 1-13-2005
Directed by Alfred L. Werker
Featuring Milton Berle, Brenda Joyce, John Shelton

A radio detective claims that he can solve a ten-year-old murder, but when his first guess proves incorrect, he must return to the scene of the crime to solve it again.

After the rash of extremely marginal movies I’ve seen lately, it seemed nice to finally see another movie with distinct horror touches. It’s your basic Old Dark House comedy, except it takes place on an Old Dark Houseboat. Despite the fact that Milton Berle is a bit of a legend, I’m really not too familiar with his work, and sad to say, I found this vehicle of his singularly short of laughs. Willie Best is also on hand, but there are just too many jokes made about his cowardice and his color that I just ended up feeling pretty uncomfortable. For me, the biggest laugh came from an unexpected source; if you ever wanted to see John Carradine do an imitation of a frog, this is the movie for you. You also get a chance to see John in his long johns, but that’s neither here nor there. After that, I will admit to a little fondness for Grady Sutton here.

Betrayed (1944)

Article #1249 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-15-2004
Posting Date: 1-12-2005
Directed by William Castle
Featuring Dean Jagger, Kim Hunter, Robert Mitchum

A woman goes to New York to meet the salesman she married a month ago, but worries when he doesn’t appear. She does meet an old boyfriend, though, who helps her to find her husband.

The only fantastic content in this movie is a certain dark and scary atmosphere at points that gives it a slight horror feel. In other words, it’s pretty marginal. It’s so marginal, in fact, that I feel the need to reiterate at this point that this series of write-ups on fantastic (science fiction, fantasy and horror) movies compiles its watching lists from other sources that claim to cover the same genres; in this case, the movie is listed in John Stanley’s “Creature Features Strikes Again Movie Guide”. If I end up watching a movie that is this marginal, I cover it anyway, if for no other reason than to say that I don’t think it qualifies.

With that out of the way, I do have to say that this one is pretty good. It also has some fine performances, especially from Robert Mitchum. It’s also, by coincidence, the second movie in a row directed by William Castle from his pre-horror period, and unless I’m mistaken, (and I don’t appear to be if IMDB is correct), he manages to get his own face into the movie in the form of a photograph that is mistakenly used to identify the killer. For fans of noirish crime films, this is highly recommended, with my main warning being that you shouldn’t think too much about the story, as the premise hinges on a coincidence that becomes more and more unbelievable the more you think about it.