The Sin of Nora Moran (1933)

THE SIN OF NORA MORAN (1933)
(a.k.a. VOICE FROM THE GRAVE)
Article #1690 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-30-2005
Posting Date: 3-29-2006
Directed by Phil Goldstone
Featuring Zita Johann, Paul Cavanagh, Alan Dinehart

A district attorney recounts the story of a woman whose affair with a noted politician results in her being executed for murder.

This movie made my list under its alternate title VOICE FROM THE GRAVE, which is one that makes it sound more like a horror movie than the more appropriate title under which the movie is generally known. The fantastic content does pop up near the end of the movie, when a man is visited by the spirit of Nora Moran just before and after her execution, though within the context of the story it may be nothing more than his over-active imagination. Horror fans no doubt remember Zita Johann as the object of Im-Ho-Tep’s affection in THE MUMMY; she only made a handful of movies. She does a fine job here, and the movie is surprisingly creative for the low budget movie company Majestic, the company which also gave us THE VAMPIRE BAT. The movie is more than a little strange, with most of the story told in flashbacks from the points of view of several different characters, and the results are rather surreal. The movie is rather engaging, but the scene of a circus performer who wrestles lions (which involves beating them with his hands while locked in a cage with him) may upset animal lovers.

No Survivors, Please (1964)

NO SURVIVORS, PLEASE (1964)
(a.k.a. DER CHEF WUNSCHT KEINE ZEUGEN)
Article #1689 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-29-2005
Posting Date: 3-28-2006
Directed by Hans Albin and Peter Beneis
Featuring Maria Perschy, Robert Cunningham, Uwe Friedrichsen

Aliens wishing to destroy the people on Earth do so by killing and taking over the bodies of noteworthy people, and using them to try to set in motion a nuclear holocaust.

Alien invasion and alien possession movies are nothing new; in some ways, this movie is covering the same ground as THE DAY MARS INVADED EARTH. However, this one takes things several steps further; in fact, I find something frighteningly logical about aliens destroying us by getting us to destroy ourselves, rather than using their own resources and putting their own expense into it. The movie is a mixed bag of sorts; the direction is indifferent and the story is often confusing. At times it seems like a comedy; certainly the scene in which an alien pilot preparing to crash an airplane starts quizzing his copilot about his insurance coverage is amusing. This is balanced out by the occasional grimness, and if at times the thematic elements become downright corny, at others they are truly unsettling. This is not a perfect movie by any means, but it’s one of those in which so many of the elements are fascinating, it’s worth catching. It’s fascinating to sort out the good guys from the bad guys, and to try to follow when they switch sides. I also like the ambiguous stalemate of an ending.

Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970)

HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON (1970)
(a.k.a. IL ROSSE SEGNO DELLA FOLLIA)
Article #1688 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-28-2005
Posting Date: 3-27-2006
Directed by Mario Bava
Featuring Stephen Forsyth, Dagmar Lassander, Laura Betti

A madman kills prospective brides with a hatchet.

Despite the silliness of the title, I went into this movie with strong expectations, largely because it was directed by Mario Bava, who I always find interesting (I consider the Dr. Goldfoot movie he directed a fluke). I was a little disappointed by the first half; it’s not badly done by any means, but the concept of a serial killer on the loose with strange fetishes (he kills only with a hatchet, and every murder involves a bridal outfit) is hardly a novel concept, and having the a modeling agency involved made me suspect that I might be seeing a recycling of BLOOD AND BLACK LACE. Still, Bava handles this movie from a totally different angle from that one; rather than being a mystery which emphasized the gory murders (as that one did), this one is more of an exploration of the mind of the killer himself – we meet the killer early on, and the movie makes him the center of attention. However, the second half of the movie has the most interesting developments. It becomes in part a ghost story, but with a fascinating switch on an old cliche; when one of his victims returns to haunt him, rather than having the ghost appear to only him without anyone else being able to see her (a standard cliche), the reverse is done – everyone can see the ghost but him, a ploy that is extremely effective given the plot at the time. I also like the fact that the killer is committing these murders because he’s trying to piece together a puzzle, and towards the end you discover what he means by this. These elements make the movie more interesting than it might otherwise be, and they make up for the ordinary first half. The movie also features a clip from BLACK SABBATH.

Gorath (1962)

GORATH (1962)
(a.k.a. YOSEI GORASU)
Article #1687 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-27-2005
Posting Date: 3-26-2006
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Featuring Ryo Ikebe, Yumi Shirakawa, Takashi Shimura

A collapsed star with a mass 6200 times of that of the Earth is on a collision course with it. The nations of the world band together to find a way to avoid the destruction of the Earth.

This was one of a handful of Japanese science fiction movies of the late fifties and early sixties that did not emphasize marauding giant monsters, and I class it together with movies like THE MYSTERIANS and BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE. However, I think this movie takes itself much more seriously than these other movies, but part of this may be that I was fortunate enough to see a subtitled print rather than a dubbed one, which isn’t true for the others. On a story level, it’s a bit confusing, but it doesn’t feel confusing in the sense of having been poorly written, but rather in the sense that such a wealth of activities are going on that the confusion feels part and parcel of the event itself. In fact, the movie has a strong epic feel; the movie has a huge cast, a variety of locations, and we follow the big events along with selected smaller events; the overall sense is of monumental events unfolding on a vast canvas. You really do get the sense that the world is on the brink of destruction, and that is the movie’s triumph.

One thing I find interesting is that the movie doesn’t have any scenes of panicking crowds, which is the sort of thing you would think would be de riguer for this sort of movie. I think I understand the omission, though; the fact that there would be fear and panic is so obvious that it doesn’t really need to be shown. If the movie denied the existence of fear, it would be one thing. However, the fear is there, but almost always under the surface, and it shows in subtle ways in how various characters react to the event. If anything, it illustrates one of the wisdoms of life; that merely because you feel a specific emotion does not mean you have to behave in a set fashion; there are many ways to handle fear, not all of them destructive.

Another interesting thing about the movie is that a giant monster is thrown into the mix for a short period of time; a giant walrus does some marauding at the south pole. This feels like a commercial concession; its appearance drags the story to a halt and it feels like a distraction. Oddly enough, one good thing about the American version of the movie is that someone had the sense to cut this scene from that release. Still, as intrusive as the scene is, it does illustrate how well the movie works; whereas most other movies featuring a giant monster would have it as a centerpiece, it seems like small potatoes when considered against the threat presented in this movie.

The Giant Gila Monster (1959)

THE GIANT GILA MONSTER (1959)
Article #1686 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-26-2005
Posting Date: 3-25-2006
Directed by Ray Kellogg
Featuring Don Sullivan, Fred Graham, Lisa Simone

A hard-working teenager and a harried sheriff investigate a series of disappearances that are the result of a marauding giant gila monster.

This movie was the companion piece to director Ray Kellogg’s other horror movie, THE KILLER SHREWS. Both movies are generally held in low esteem, but SHREWS has its staunch defenders who feel that if you can look past the cheapness of the production and the fakeness of the monsters, you have a well thought out and suspenseful story, and I tend to agree with them. This movie lacks even these defenders; it generates little suspense, the monster is just a regular-sized lizard shot to look large, and as a horror movie it falls flat. Yet, I find myself drawn to this movie, and have seen it several times over the years, and I always enjoy watching it. Why? For what may be the oddest of reasons; whatever flaws there are with the story, I find myself drawn to the regional feel of the movie, and especially to the likable characters that inhabit this environment. In particular, I enjoy the warm relationship between the Don Sullivan character and Fred Graham’s sheriff; their affection and cameraderie seem so natural and unforced that I get a great deal of pleasure just watching them interact. And with the exception of Mr. Wheeler (who, as the insensitive rich man, is supposed to be unsympathetic), I like them all; even Shug Fisher’s comic relief drunk doesn’t get on my nerves. It’s rare for a movie to have this many likable characters, and I think the reason I watch the movie again and again is because I just like to spend time with them. Now if I could only edit out that overly sappy “Laugh, Children, Laugh” song…

Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow (1959)

GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW (1959)
Article #1685 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-25-2005
Posting Date: 3-24-2006
Directed by William J. Hole Jr.
Featuring Jody Fair, Russ Bender, Henry McCann

Plot Description: You’re kidding, right?

This movie lives up to its title in at least two ways. Given the turgid pacing it certainly drags, and given its almost aggressive superficiality, it is certainly hollow. The movie largely starts out as a compendium of lame drag racing gags, but graduates to lame clueless parents gags, lame old lady gags and lame haunted house gags. Throw in some lame rock ‘n’ roll, make sure there’s no plot, toss in undeveloped scenarios involving a rival gang, and there’s you movie. Still, the girls are cute and there’s a real sense of innocence to it all; bearing this in mind, the movie would be no worse than harmless. Unfortunately, the movie ups the ante; first of all, it tosses in one of the most painfully unfunny talking birds I’ve ever seen and then makes it even worse by adding a talking car in the mix. Then, to top it all off, we get a scene of Paul Blaisdell whining about how he was tossed out by his studio after having been responsible for some of their most memorable monsters; this scene wouldn’t be funny even if it weren’t largely true (it was Blaisdell’s last movie), but as it is, I find it just really sad. Given all this, it’s no surprise that when the title character finally shows up, he does the only thing a self-respecting ghost would do – he walks away.

It wouldn’t be worth watching if I didn’t have the hots for the tall girl with the glasses, which just goes to show that this movie isn’t the only thing that’s pathetic.

Destroy All Planets (1968)

DESTROY ALL PLANETS (1968)
(a.k.a. GAMERA TAI UCHU KAIJI BAIRUSA /
GAMERA VS. OUTER SPACE MONSTER VIRUS)
Article #1684 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-24-2005
Posting Date: 3-23-2006
Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
Featuring Kojiro Hongo, Toru Takatsuka, Carl Craig

Space aliens intent on conquering the earth decide to force Gamera to do their bidding. They do so by kidnapping two children as hostages, as they know Gamera is a friend to all children, a fact they learned from watching twenty minutes of stock footage. The hostage children are given the run of the ship, however, and they discover that it is populated by robot-like zombie men and a strange caged creature….

The most common American title for this movie, DESTROY ALL PLANETS, has always seemed to me to be an obvious attempt to link the movie with Toho’s monster fest, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. Yes, there are a couple of similarities; it does feature space aliens trying to force a good monster to do its bidding, and it does feature many monsters from previous Gamera movies. However, I think a more apt comparison could be made between this and GODZILLA’S REVENGE. After all, both movies can be considered as plunges into juvenalia; even though the Gamera movies had a more juvenile edge anyway, this is the first one where the only major characters (other than the monsters) are children. The big difference is that the Godzilla movie remained an anomaly, whereas the Gamera movies maintained the juvenile theme. Also, both movies make extensive use of stock footage from previous movies in the series, and even here, the Godzilla movie comes off better; whereas that one incorporated the footage in such a way that if you didn’t know it was stock footage you might not have guessed, this one is obviously lifting footage, especially when the aliens tap into Gamera’s mind to learn his weaknesses and we are treated to twenty minutes of footage from GAMERA, GAMERA VS. BARAGON and GAMERA VS. GAOS. This footage takes up almost a third of the movie, and incidentally, when I mentioned that all the monsters from the previous Gamera movies appeared in this movie, it was only in stock footage. In truth, this is one of the lamest of the Gamera movies, though it does have some touches that I’ve come to identify with the series. Gamera’s foe is certainly bizarre looking, the scene where he becomes giant is truly surreal, and the violence is gorier and a bit edgier than you find in a Godzilla movie; in fact, Gamera sustains what must be the worst injury of his career in this movie. Still, almost all of this doesn’t really come about until the last ten minutes of the movie, so you may want to keep your fast forward handy.

Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks (1974)

FRANKENSTEIN’S CASTLE OF FREAKS (1974)
(a.k.a. TERROR! IL CASTELLO DELLE DONNE MALEDETTE)
Article #1683 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-23-2005
Posting Date: 3-22-2006
Directed by Robert Oliver
Featuring Rossano Brazzi, Michael Dunn, Edmund Perdom

Frankenstein works on a monster while various assistants yell at each other and a voyeuristic dwarf plots revenge with the help of a caveman named Ook.

This compendium of Frankenstein movie cliches has:

– a rating of PG despite having scads of nudity.

– SOUTH PACIFIC star Rossano Brazzi walking through the role of Dr. Frankenstein

– one time Oscar-nominated dwarf actor Michael Dunn in the embarassing role of the voyeuristic dwarf. He doesn’t even dub his own voice here.

– an actor billed as Boris Lugosi playing the part of Ook, the Neanderthal Man. His real name is Salvatore Baccaro, and he apparently made a career playing characters like this. He looks more Avery Schreiber than either Boris or Bela.

– a mad scientist, a monster, a dwarf, a hunchback, some women with bad clothes sense who like to take baths in front of the dwarf, some mean servants, and angry villagers.

– no sense of discernible style.

– body-builder and Sword-and-Sandal star Gordon Mitchell as Igor. I spot him in a few scenes, but he’s given precious little to do here.

– bad dubbing.

– a final message. Apparently, there’s a little bit of monster in all of us.

– a scene where the dwarf teaches the Neanderthal how to kidnap and rape a woman. Based on the rule that all the horrible people in the movie are to be killed by the monster at the end of the movie, I find it curious that the dwarf is allowed to live.

– nothing about it to recommend it, unless you find the moral profound, or just have to see Michael Dunn embarrass himself, or must see the naked women, or just like seeing Frankenstein cliches glumly trotted out without purpose or style. Though it’s not boring, it’s rather pointless and not particularly fun.

The Fly (1958)

THE FLY (1958)
Article #1682 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-22-2005
Posting Date: 3-21-2006
Directed by Kurt Neumann
Featuring David Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price

When a woman with a fly obsession admits to having crushed her husband to death in a steel press, her brother-in-law and the inspector on the case both try to get the full story of what happened. It turns out that the husband had been dabbling in experiments with matter transmission, and that something went horribly wrong….

Though this movie has a good reputation, it rarely makes lists of the best science fiction movies of the period for some reason. Actually, I can somewhat understand this; one of the odd things about this movie is that some of the most memorable scenes unintentionally walk a thin line between the horrific and the comic (the scene where Delambre tries to control his arm and the scene in the web come to mind), and how you react to them may be dependent on your mood at the time. I have a strong affection for this one myself; I love the mystery elements that play into the first thirty minutes of the film, I really like all the characters and care what happens to them, and some moments are incredibly powerful (the aforementioned scene with the arm and his last scrawled message on the blackboard are quite powerful). David Hedison does a wonderful job in a part that at certain times only allows him to communicate his feelings via one arm and body language, and Patricia Owens is solid throughout. Vincent Price and Herbert Marshall also do well, though Price is oddly cast here in a role that largely keeps him on the periphery of the plot. The weakest moment in the movie to these eyes is the one where Price and Marshall conjure up a false story to save Helene from being arrested and/or committed; it’s too contrived and even a touch too light-hearted for the movie.

The Flesh and the Fiends (1959)

THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS (1959)
(a.k.a. MANIA / THE FIENDISH GHOULS)
Article #1681 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-21-2005
Posting Date: 3-20-2006
Directed by John Gilling
Featuring Peter Cushing, June Laverick, Donald Pleasence

When two criminals discover they can be well paid for procuring bodies for an eminent surgeon, they begin murdering people to get the money.

Like the tales of Rasputin and Richard the Third, the story of Burke, Hare and Dr. Knox is one of those historical stories that also qualifies as a fit subject for horror movies. It’s an ideal story for the cinema; it’s not only lurid and sensationalistic, it touches upon any number of subjects; it raises intriguing questions about morality, hypocrisy, class consciousness, and the conflict between religion and science. To its credit, this movie does touch upon all of those subjects at one time or another, and manages to be a horror movie and a compelling drama at the same time. The sturdiness of the script is one strength, and it’s also very well directed. However, the biggest strength here is an excellent and well-conceived performance by Peter Cushing. His Dr. Knox is a fascinating character; he’s fearless and dedicated to his cause, but he’s somewhat blind to his own moral culpability in the matter, and the deformity of one of his eyes is just the movie’s way of pointing out that he doesn’t see as well as he could. It’s fascinating how well certain characters match up; when the chips are down, Dr. Knox will throw Burke and Hare to the dogs, and Hare will do the same to Burke. The doctor who dislikes and suspects Burke and Hare refuses to give them up to the police, whereas Dr. Knox has no such qualms. The movie also features an excellent performance from Donald Pleasence as the decrepit, foppish cane-twirling Hare, and it’s fascinating to watch how in subtle ways he paves the way for his betrayal of Burke later on, though this does not save him. The best moment of the movie for me is near the end, where a child is able to make Dr. Knox understand something that his fellow doctors and the mob could not do; Cushing is simply exquisite in this scene. The rest of the cast also does quite will, and this perhaps the best movie I’ve seen to tell this tale (bearing in mind that the equally excellent THE BODY SNATCHER is not the Burke and Hare story per se).