The Phynx (1970)

THE PHYNX (1970)
Article #1693 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-2-2005
Posting Date: 4-1-2006
Directed by Lee H. Katzin
Featuring Michael A. Miller, Ray Chippeway, Dennis Larden

When the army can’t rescue several great leaders (George Jessel, Johnny Weissmuller, Butterfly McQueen, etc) that have been kidnapped and are being held hostage in Albania (the army can’t get past this big tank guarding the gates), they consult a computer called MOTHA which tells them to form a rock group which will then be invited to Albania.

If the title of this one has you scratching your head, wait till you see the movie. Which is not to say that the movie is required viewing; this is not a recommendation by any means. It’s merely that the movie is jaw-droppingly weird. It starts out hit-or-miss, but then evens out to a certain consistency; unfortunately, by consistency, I mean it consistently misses. Since it’s at least partially a parody of the super-spy genre, the fantastic elements consist of occasional gadgets; the computer MOTHA is one of them, X-Ray glasses that allow our heroes to see through clothing is another one. Still, the movie’s main source of interest is the bewildering array of guest stars, most of which are playing themselves as kidnap victims. Just a smattering of ones not listed above – Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Colonel Sanders, Dick Clark, Andy Devine, Jay Silverheels (as Tonto, or course), Trini Lopez, Joe Louis, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy – there are more, but this gives you an idea of how strange it is. The music by Lieber and Stoller isn’t bad (after all, they were legitimate pioneers of rock and roll), but it was a bit dated at the time this movie was made. So there’s no doubt that the movie has a strong curiosity value. Now if only it were funny as well…

The Hidden Hand (1942)

Article #1692 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-1-2005
Posting Date: 3-31-2006
Directed by Benjamin Stoloff
Featuring Craig Stevens, Elisabeth Fraser, Julie Bishop

A rich woman decides to fake her own death so she can have the joy of watching the heirs bicker over her fortune. Towards that end, she brings in her brother to help her, who has just escaped from an insane asylum.

Did I say yesterday that the Old Dark House genre had run out of steam in the forties? I take it all back; this one is a hoot! At least part of the reason I really enjoyed this one was the crisp pace. Another was that it largely jettisoned the mystery angle; we pretty much know who the two homicidal loonies are, and the fun is watching how they go about their dirty deeds. It also helps that one of them (the insane brother) is played by none other than that perennial undertaker, Milton Parsons, and he makes for one of the most gleefully over-the-top psychos I’ve ever seen; it’s easily the best role I’ve seen of his. The movie also contains one of the funniest booby traps I’ve ever seen (the one involving the ship’s wheel), and it comes up with the cleverest murder frame-up I’ve witnessed in a movie. In fact, the only thing this movie really shares with THE GIRL WHO DARED is the presence of Willie Best as (once again) a comic-relief chauffeur, and even here the difference is remarkable. Whereas TGWD merely tried to mine laughs from him by having him be scared at everything, this one actually bothers to give him specific comic bits and situations that provide a real context for his actions, and he rises to the challenge and gives one of his best comic performances as well. For Old Dark House movie fans, this one is irresistible.

The Girl Who Dared (1944)

Article #1691 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-31-2005
Posting Date: 3-30-2006
Directed by Howard Bretherton
Featuring Lorna Gray, Peter Cookson, Grant Withers

A group of people are invited to a party on an island to see a ghost appear. Then people start dropping dead…

By the time the forties rolled around, the old dark house genre had pretty much run its course; most of the movies of that ilk that were made during the forties were pretty lethargic, and despite an efficient running time of about fifty-five minutes for this one, it’s no exception. Even the title makes it sound more like a soap opera than what it is. It has a little bit of novelty value; several serial actors appear (Kirk Alyn, Roy Barcroft and Kenne Duncan) among them, and the plot involves radium, which must have been a pretty topical subject in the mid forties. Still, the movie lacks atmosphere, despite the fact that Willie Best is acting scared by everything. And as can be expected in this sort of movie, the ghost isn’t real. The ending is rather odd, though – it almost seems a parody of the usual “hero and heroine falling in love” cliche that is pretty common to these movies, but nevertheless, the lackadaisical handling makes it fall as flat as does the rest of the movie.

The Sin of Nora Moran (1933)

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)

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)

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)
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.