The Witchmaker (1969)

THE WITCHMAKER (1969)
Article #1630 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-31-2005
Posting Date: 1-28-2006
Directed by Anthony Eisley, Thordis Brandt, Alvy Moore

Psychic investigators go into the bayou where several murders have been committed. They find themselves in peril from a coven of witches headed by a man called Luther the Berserk.

This one is definitely a mixed bag. At its worst, it is muddled and tedious, and whenever it tries to play up the exploitation elements it just gets silly. At its best, however, it is moody, suspenseful and surprisingly soulful; in particular, some of the speeches given to Alvy Moore’s character are rather touching, in particular one in which he talks about how certain students stand out in his memory. Moore, who also served as an associate producer for this movie, also gives a strong performance; his presence is unusual for a horror movie, and this gives the movie some of its offbeat feel. The movie gets better as it goes along and builds up to a strong ending. All in all, I found the positive qualities of this one to outweigh its weaknesses. Incidentally, Moore and Executive Producer L. Q. Jones would join forces several years later to bring make A BOY AND HIS DOG, one of the few adaptations of a Harlan Ellison story to make it to the big screen.

The Wild World of Batwoman (1966)

THE WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN (1966)
Article #1629 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-30-2005
Posting Date: 1-27-2006
Directed by Jerry Warren
Featuring Katherine Victor, George Mitchell, Steve Brodie

Batwoman tries to prevent the evil Rat Fink from stealing an atomic-powered hearing aid.

Given the comments I’ve made heretofore about Jerry Warren’s directorial style, one would think that the man’s work was of a piece, with no marked difference to distinguish one of his movies from another. That’s not strictly true; Jerry Warren did on occasion learn from his mistakes, and not all of his movies are snoozefests. That isn’t to say that his work evolved (which implies a step up, a deceptive statement if ever there was one); nor did it devolve (which implies a step down, which was impossible). Rather, let’s say it mutated, and not into something pretty.

Let’s take this movie. It manages to accomplish something that none of his other movies to date (with the possible exception of MAN BEAST) have achieved —it maintains a rudimentary interest level throughout; in short, it doesn’t put you right to sleep. But how did he accomplish this? I’m guessing that he realized that the only original footage he shot for ATTACK OF THE MAYAN MUMMY (in opposition to the footage he took from THE AZTEC MUMMY) that held any sort of interest level was the scene in the malt shop, where the distracting sight of a girl’s wiggling derriere provided the only reason not to nod off during a tedious dialogue sequence. What did he learn from this? He learned that if you want to keep people awake, throw in distracting action during the dialogue sequences. As a result, every time this movie hits an expositional scene or one where important information is imparted, he throws in background distractions such as mugging comic relief characters, wiggling derrieres (of course) and horseshoe tugs-of-war (huh?). Yes, it manages to hold your interest, but just try to keep track of the story. Granted, the story is such a mess that trying to follow it was probably a lost cause anyway, and the fact that this was Warren’s attempt to make a really sixties movie (designed to recall, among other thing, spy movies, horror movies, beach party movies and TV’s “Batman”) that is fun-filled and campy only magnifies the confusion. As a result, Warren does manage to avoid a snoozefest here, but at a price; instead of a refreshing sleep, you’ll have migraines.

So what was Jerry Warren’s reward for this undertaking? A lawsuit for his use of the Batwoman name. This, with the exception of an early eighties movie called FRANKENSTEIN ISLAND, brought Warren’s directorial career to an end.

The White Gorilla (1945)

THE WHITE GORILLA (1945)
Article #1628 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-29-2005
Posting Date: 1-26-2006
Directed by Harry L. Fraser
Featuring Ray Corrigan, Lorraine Miller, George J. Lewis

A safari guide stumbles into a trading post and tells the people there a “story” about his encounter with a white gorilla.

If there’s any other jungle movie out there that gives FORBIDDEN JUNGLE a run for its money as the worst of the jungle genre, this is the leading contender. Sometimes, I can’t decide which one is worse. Sure, FJ is absurdly bizarre, has laughable special effects at time, and features dialogue that sounds as if it were written by Ed Wood. Still, it does tell a coherent story and actually seems rather sincere. This one is a piece of cynical hackwork from the moment of conception; it’s an attempt to cobble together a feature made of about thirty minutes of new footage and thirty minutes of footage from an old serial. This would have resulted in a poor movie in the best of circumstances; however, the serial that provided the rest of the footage was a silent serial, and that makes things even worse. I’m not sure there’s even a story, but if there is one, the story told by the silent footage (which involves jungle explorers and a white boy with supernatural powers over animals) and the one told by the new footage (about an angry white gorilla and an angry black gorilla) never intersect; in fact, when it comes time to wind up the silent footage, an expedition is sent out to rescue the characters from that footage, but comes back only to say they couldn’t find anything but some bones in a tiger pit. To tie it all together, we have Ray Corrigan spending a lot of time in a tree watching things from a distance and pondering as to how he can help out, which of course he can’t, because he’s only in the new footage. Perhaps the funniest scenes here are the gorilla attacks, which, despite the fact that they’re supposed to be brutal, are anything but. The opening credits give the stars as “Ray Corrigan, Lorraine Miller, and An All-Star Cast”, the latter of which they never mention by name; I guess they must have felt that since they were all stars, no introduction was necessary. And no, I didn’t recognize a single one of them.

Shattered Silence (1972)

SHATTERED SILENCE (1972)
(a.k.a. WHEN MICHAEL CALLS)
Article #1627 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-28-2005
Posting Date: 1-25-2006
Directed by Philip Leacock
Featuring Ben Gazzara, Elizabeth Ashley, Michael Douglas

A divorcee begins receiving phone calls from her nephew Michael, who died fifteen years ago.

Despite a certain predictability to the proceedings, this isn’t bad for TV-Movie horror thriller; despite the cliches, it does an acceptable job of trotting out the thrills. It’s pretty easy to figure out if you follow the simple rule – “Whenever you watch a movie about a mysterious homicidal murderer whose identity is supposed to be a secret, make sure to pay close attention to whichever cast member is credited as ‘Special Guest Star’.”‘ This is also one of those movies where the psycho acts perfectly normal until the scene where you’re supposed to figure out he’s the psycho, and then acts crazy for the rest of the movie.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me get down to my real business today – reviewing the blurb on the back of the DVD. And I quote –

“SHATTERED SILENCE is a story of a torrid romance that takes on suspenseful overtones as Michael Douglas and the irresistible Elizabeth Ashley are driven to desire in this shocking love triangle. What sets out to be a romantic love affair, with Michael Douglas (Craig) using his irresistible charm to capture the heart of Elizabeth Ashley (Helen), becomes a triangle of horror and sheer terror as the son Helen believed she has lost 15 years ago returns to terrorize her acquaintances.”

Some observations –

“Torrid” and “shocking love triangle” – Just how torrid can an 1972 TV-Movie be? Well, I think Michael Douglas kisses Elizabeth Ashley on the forehead once. He does this not because he’s her lover; it’s because he’s her nephew! And no, this movie does not deal with incest; the fact of the matter is that there is no romance between Douglas and Ashley, and consequently, no triangle. So why did the blurb-writer claim there was? My guess was to make you buy it in the hopes of seeing something like FATAL ATTRACTION.

“..as the son Helen believed she lost 15 years ago…” – The last part of the blurb is the only part that is even remotely accurate, and even this gets it wrong; Michael is not her son, but her nephew.

Moral: Never trust a blurb writer.

Vulcan, Son of Jupiter (1961)

VULCAN, SON OF JUPITER (1961)
(a.k.a. VULCANO, FIGLIO DI GIOVE)
Article #1626 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-27-2005
Posting Date: 1-24-2006
Directed by Emimmo Salve
Featuring Richard Lloyd, Gordon Mitchell, Bella Cortez

When Mars and Vulcan, rivals for the hand of Venus, have their powers taken away by an angry Jupiter over their squabbling, they go to Earth. Mars attempts to stage an uprising against Jupiter, while Vulcan attempts to save his people who are captured by lizard men and then made slaves by the minions of Mars.

Even by sword-and-sandal standards, this is pretty silly stuff. Usually, the gods keep somewhat in the background in these movies; here they’re front and center, with a tired and cranky Jupiter, an effeminate and fawning Mercury, a sarcastic Pluto, and a slatternly Venus (among others) romping around Olympus, home of the Gods and land of choral music and ground fog. The lizard men have long fangs and wear lizard costumes. The prisoners use a brilliant strategy to escape from them; they toss a musical dwarf into the sea. We also get to see Vulcan tote that dwarf around like a six-pack at one point. Still, I will admit that the dwarf is pretty handy with a club, even if he uses it primarily to hit people that are already down. Supposedly, the plan to attack Olympus involves building a tower tall enough to reach it, but even by the end of the movie they haven’t made much in the way of progress on it. It’s bizarrely plotted, full of howler lines, and ends with Jupiter laughing manically. This is a strange one.

Virgin Witch (1972)

VIRGIN WITCH (1972)
Article #1625 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-26-2005
Posting Date: 1-23-2006
Directed by Ray Austin
Featuring Ann Michelle, Vicki Michelle, Keith Buckley

Two sisters run off to the big city. One gets hired by a modelling agency which is actually a front for a witch’s coven.

As stated above, the two sisters run off to the city, which requires they parade around in micro-mini-skirts. One sister applies for a modelling job, and naturally her interview requires that she strip naked for the lesbian head of the modelling agency. Both sisters go to a mansion for a photo shoot. This requires that the new model lounge around naked on the top of the car while the other one parades around in her micro-mini-skirt and be startled that creepy men leer at her. The model then is initiated into the witch’s coven, which requires that she strip naked and be rubbed with oils, and then everyone else strips naked for the orgy. It is at this point halfway through the movie that the truly inexplicable happens; the movie decides it has a plot, and the rest of the running time is largely devoted to the struggle of power between the new witch and the leader of the coven. It’s not really a great plot, but given the ubiquitous parade of female flesh that has passed for a movie up to this point, I was surprised that a story even existed. And the movie even somewhat abandons the constant parade of flesh to make way for the story, though not totally; after all, we have at least one more orgy before it’s all over with. As for me, I suppose something positive could be said about a movie that pulls itself up from the level of being a total waste of time to one that is only primarily a waste of time. Still, that’s hardly a recommendation, is it? For exploitation fans, or anyone who thinks that this movie sounds just like their cup of tea.

The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960)

THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA (1960)
(a.k.a. L’AMANTE DEL VAMPIRO)
Article #1624 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-25-2005
Posting Date: 1-22-2006
Directed by Renato Polselli
Featuring Helene Remy, Maria Luisa Rolando, Tina Gloriani

A troop of ballerinas has to contend with a vampire from a nearby castle.

Don’t confuse this one with THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE. That one is an Italian horror film from the early sixties about a troop of ballerinas being terrorized by a vampire in the form of Walter Brandi. This one, on the other hand, is – uh – an Italian horror film from the early sixties about a troop of ballerinas being terrorized by a vampire in the form of Walter Brandi. Of course, in the other film, the so-called ballerinas weren’t really ballerinas; once you saw them dancing, you knew that in reality they were burlesque showgirls. When they dance in this one, on the other hand, they remind you of – uh – burlesque showgirls (though at least these look a little bit like ballerinas). On second thought, go ahead and confuse the two movies; I don’t have a problem with that. Quality-wise, I would have a problem picking between them; they both came across as third-rate Euro-Horrors. The only real difference I could tell is that PLAYGIRLS was a little sleazier. There are probably more differences, but if it’s all the same with you, I’m not up to going back and watch the other movie to try to sort them out. Life is too short.

Renegade Satellite (1956)

RENEGADE SATELLITE (1956)
(a.k.a. THE TRIAL OF ROCKY JONES)
Article #1623 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-24-2005
Posting Date: 1-21-2006
Directed by Hollingsworth Morse
Featuring Richard Crane, Dayton Lummis, Sally Mansfield

When Rocky Jones lands on a neutral planet that doesn’t have extradition alliances with the other United Worlds, he finds himself framed for assault and piracy by old enemies.

Yes, it’s another feature film version of the Rocky Jones TV series, and I’m sure this was considered a ‘very special’ episode of the series in its day. One of the things I do like about the Rocky Jones series, though, is that certain non-regular characters reappear throughout the series, and this one features three-and-a-half old enemies of Rocky Jones; the half is the now-reformed space pirate Pinto Vortando from SILVER NEEDLE IN THE SKY. So what makes these episodes extra-special? When the trial begins, Ranger Biffen Cardoza (Rocky’s defense lawyer) discovers a law in the books that allows testimony about past events not directly connected to the issue at hand, and before you can say “clips episode”, we are treated to plenty of footage from previous Rocky Jones adventures—really, with an alternate title like THE TRIAL OF ROCKY JONES, I should have seen it coming. I’m sure I saw clips from at least four of the five movies I’ve covered so far. So, what does it say that I found this particularly entry in the Rocky Jones saga to be relatively fast-moving and fun, and consequently the most entertaining of the lot? I don’t know, but for me it was. On a side note, for those of you who like to shoot holes in old aphorisms, ask yourself how well the old saw “Crime Doesn’t Pay” holds up in this series when you consider that the formerly successful space pirate Pinto Vortando only becomes a penniless bum AFTER he gives up piracy and embraces law and order.

A Taste of Blood (1967)

A TASTE OF BLOOD (1967)
Article #1622 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-23-2005
Posting Date: 1-20-2006
Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis
Featuring Bill Rogers, Elizabeth Wilkinson, William Kerwin

An American businessman, the sole descendant of Count Dracula, receives a shipment of two bottles of brandy from Carfax Abbey. This brandy is mingled with the blood of Dracula, and it turns the businessman into a vampire with the intention of taking vengeance on the descendants of those who destroyed Dracula.

Apparently, Herschell Gordon Lewis considered this movie his epic and his move into the mainstream. He also considers it a mistake, and I think I know what he means. It looks better than many of Lewis’s other films, the acting is on a higher level (thought still quite bad at times), the gore is pretty mild (for Lewis) and the story itself is fairly decent; in particular, I like the fact that it attempts to be a sequel to the original novel rather than a particular movie version of “Dracula”. The cheapness comes through in the usual ways; the sound is once again quite awful and the musical soundtrack is ghastly and repetitive. However, its worst problem is one that I haven’t run into before with Lewis’s movie, and that is that it’s way too long; after all, none of the movies I’ve covered of his have run more than ninety minutes, and he actually had to add footage to THE GRUESOME TWOSOME to get it up to an acceptable length. This one runs 117 minutes, and its turgid pacing really kills the movie. On a couple of side notes, the movie features a very rare appearance of Lewis himself as a cockney seamen (though with his accent, you’ll have to take his word he’s a Cockney), and one piece of advice I’d give to him is that the final chase sequence is the wrong time in a movie to introduce a new comic relief character. On the plus side, this movie beats the similarly titled TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA to the concept of becoming a vampire by drinking Dracula’s blood by three years.

THX 1138 (1971)

THX 1138 (1971)
Article #1621 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-22-2005
Posting Date: 1-19-2006
Directed by George Lucas
Featuring Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, Don Pedro Colley

In an oppressive future environment where sex is outlawed and drugs are mandatory, a man who has gotten his roommate pregnant finds himself at the mercy of the authorities.

Those who know Lucas’s science fiction work solely through the Star Wars movies may be caught off guard by this, his first full-length motion picture (based on a student film). Though it too is science fiction, it is a far cry from the serial-like thrills of his later series. Storywise, it’s a bit of a cross between “1984” and “Brave New World”, with a little big of THE GREAT ESCAPE thrown in for good measure (and it shares one cast member from that movie — namely, Donald Pleasence). The movie takes place in a bleak, depressing world, and it’s quite difficult to follow at times. However, it does have a great sense of style, and it makes you wonder about the other directions his career might have gone if STAR WARS hadn’t become the phenomenon it did. It’s well acted by all the principles, though I think Donald Pleasence’s character the most complex and fascinating. The director’s cut has what looks like a bit of tampering; there are some scenes involving ape-like creatures that I don’t think I’ve seen before and which look a too CGI-ish for the time in which the original movie was made. Still, I like some of the touches; the patter between the robot guards is amusing, and the fact that the pursuit of the escapees will only continue for as long as it doesn’t go more than five percent over the budget allotted to it; this is the kind of detail I just love in movies like this. The movie also features Don Pedro Colley, Maggie McOmie and Ian Wolfe in memorable roles, and Sid Haig has a great moment destroying a robot guard.