Bruce Gentry (1949)

BRUCE GENTRY (1949)
(Serial)
(a.k.a. BRUCE GENTRY, DAREDEVIL OF THE SKIES)
Article #1680 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-20-2005
Posting Date: 3-19-2006
Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet and Thomas Carr
Featuring Tom Neal, Judy Clark, Ralph Hodges

Bruce Gentry investigates reports of destructive flying saucers and the kidnapping of a noted scientist.

Daredevil of the skies, huh? One would think you’d get a generous supply of airplane antics in this one. No such luck, really; outside of his ability to crash airplanes into animated flying saucers (or crashing the same airplane into the same animated flying saucer several times, or so the footage tells me), he shows precious little airborne derring-do. Mostly he tools around in his car, or when that isn’t available, puttering around on one of the dinkiest motor scooters I’ve ever seen. Our hero here is just another stock serial hero type, and the villain? Well, he’s called The Recorder because he delivers all of his messages via phonographed instructions; in other words, as such, he has very little presence in the story (though he is clearly one of the other characters in the story). If I don’t sound too impressed with this one, it’s because I’m not; this was one of the most routine serials I’ve ever seen. Sure, it’s neat that it has flying saucers, but they appear so sporadically you forget they exist for long stretches of the serial, and when they do appear, it’s usually all the same footage from the first episode. It does work itself up to a couple of decent cliffhangers, and the revelation of the villain’s identity is more satisfying than I expected, but for the most part, this serial was a waste of time.

The Psychic (1968)

THE PSYCHIC (1968)
Article #1679 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-19-2005
Posting Date: 3-18-2006
Directed by James F. Hurley
Featuring Dick Genola, Robin Guest, Carol Saenz

A man develops psychic abilities after he injures himself falling from a ladder.

James F. Hurley was the writer/producer of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s SOMETHING WEIRD. According to the blurb on the back of my copy of this movie, he was less than thrilled with the way Lewis handled his story, and decided to direct this one himself, hiring Lewis as a cinematographer only. One can see the movie attempting to be a serious drama, but with most of the acting on the same level as that of a movie by Lewis himself, ludicrous dialogue and bad sound, the movie was doomed. Furthermore, by trying to make a serious drama in an exploitation filmmaking environment, he found it impossible to sell the movie until some softcore porn footage was added. The movie was even retitled COPENHAGEN’S PSYCHIC LOVERS despite the fact that it doesn’t take place in Copenhagen. I suspect this title was used to make you associate the movie with some of the sexy movies coming from Scandinavia at the time. Needless to say, the result is an awkward mess, but, like Ed Wood’s GLEN OR GLENDA, you can see something more substantial trying to glimmer through. Still, the oddest thing I found about the movie is that the child actors are fairly good, which I found rather strange, since he seemed unable to coax decent performances from the adults. This one is definitely an oddity.

Embryo (1976)

EMBRYO (1976)
Article #1678 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-18-2005
Posting Date: 3-17-2006
Directed by Ralph Nelson
Featuring Rock Hudson, Barbara Carrera, Diane Ladd

After he successfully saves and raises a fetus from a dying dog through the use of a growth formula that causes it to develop at an abnormally fast pace, a scientist decides to try the same experiment with a human being.

There’s an interesting scene at the twenty minute mark of this movie. The scientist drives to a hospital with the dog he’s raised with the growth serum in the car. The dog is unusually bright, and when the doctor leaves the dog in the car and tells him to stay, he does – until the doctor is out of sight, at which point the dog unlocks the car door and goes outside. Almost immediately, a small furry dog runs up to him, barking incessantly. The doctor’s dog puts up with it for a little while, but then grabs the small dog, shakes it in his teeth and kills it, and then hides the dead dog among some plants, returns to the car and goes back inside. Up to this point, the dog has performed no violent act.

I bring up this scene because I don’t know how I feel about it. It’s the most interesting scene in the movie (and I take my hat off to the dog, who gives the best performance in the movie), but it also gives the game away; we know that the dog is evil, and we know he’s evil because he’s the result of a scientist “tampering in God’s domain”. Given the fact that the scientist is going to experiment with human subjects next, we pretty much know where the rest of the movie is going to go, and we spend the next fifty minutes of the movie waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It’s a bit of a shame; the movie bounces back and forth between being a drama and a cliche-ridden horror movie. It’s a bit like CHARLY crossed with FRANKENSTEIN (and given that director Ralph Nelson was also responsible for the earlier of those two movies, I hardly think the similarities are coincidental). Interesting scenes alternate with cliched scenes, and the movie seems to be trying to go two directions at once. It’s hard to take the movie seriously when the doctor’s creation consults a computer to find the antidote to her drug problem, only to discover that the cure involves using the pituitary glands of unborn children, a scene which so baldly sets up a horror ending that they might has well have gone all the way and said that it required the spinal fluid of freshly killed people. Actually, this shuttling back and forth does help hold up the interest level of the movie, but in the end, it really doesn’t work. In particular, I found the ending of the movie difficult to swallow, largely due to the fact that the character of the doctor isn’t really sufficiently developed to make his actions in the final moments of the movie believable. Still, there are the good moments. The best human performance comes from Roddy McDowall in a cameo as a chess champion who finds himself outclassed by the doctor’s human creation; his characterization adds some real spice to the movie.

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)

DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965)
Article #1677 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-17-2005
Posting Date: 3-16-2006
Directed by Freddie Francis
Featuring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Donald Sutherland

Five men on a train have their fortunes told by a mysterious stranger with a Tarot deck.

This was the first of several horror anthologies from Amicus, and though I don’t think it’s quite up to the level of TALES FROM THE CRYPT, it’s not bad. I have a method of deciding how good some of the stories are that is rather simple; if I’ve seen the anthology before, I generally consider the best stories to be the ones I remember from my first viewing. In this case, there’s really only one story I remember, and that’s the fourth story in which Christopher Lee does battle with a crawling hand. For me, this is still the best story; the pace is crisp (which is something that can’t be said for all the stories), and the acting by Lee and Michael Gough is excellent. Beyond that, my favorites are the framing story and the third story, in which a jazz musician steals a melody used in a voodoo ceremony. The first and last stories (about werewolves and vampires respectively) have some nice final twists, but are marred by sluggish pacing, and the last story features a silly bat with glow-in-the-dark eyes that is anything but scary. Still, the weakest of the batch is the second story about a killer vine that would have been best handled as a comedy; for me, this story went down the tubes when the vine purposefully cuts the telephone line. The movie also features a young Donald Sutherland and Bernard Lee (‘M’ from the James Bond movies).

The Diabolical Dr. Z (1966)

THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z (1966)
(a.k.a. MISS MUERTE)
Article #1676 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-16-2005
Posting Date: 3-15-2006
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Antonio Jimenez Escribano, Mabel Karr, Howard Vernon

When a scientist researching methods of human mind control dies as a result of public humiliation at a scientific conference, his daughter fakes her own death and sets out on a plan to seek vengeance against those responsible for her father’s death.

Like THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF, this is one of the better Franco movies out there. In fact, this one is even better than that one; the somewhat conventional plot is given a lot of unexpected and interesting touches, and Franco’s visual style is very strong here. It’s remarkably free of the excesses and throwaway scenes that inundate so many of his other movies. Another plus is that the dubbing is far better than usual; it’s not always in sync with the mouths, but the quality of the acting of those supplying the dubbed voices is fairly high, and that makes up for it. I also like the fact that the murders aren’t just duplicates of each other, but unfold in vastly different ways; it shows that a good deal of care was taken with this one. I do have problems believing that Miss Muerte’s stage act would actually fly in a nightclub, but I could be wrong; after all, the fact that she’s wearing a skin-tight translucent outfit may well be enough to satisfy most men. I’d have to choose this as the best Franco movie I’ve seen to date.

The Devil’s Hand (1962)

THE DEVIL’S HAND (1962)
Article #1675 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-15-2005
Posting Date: 3-14-2006
Directed by William Hole Jr.
Featuring Linda Christian, Robert Alda, Neil Hamilton

A man is haunted by strange dreams of a beautiful woman, and is surprised to encounter a doll that looks just like her in a doll shop. He is then startled to discover that not only does the owner of the shop claim that he commissioned the doll to be made, but there is also a doll on the premises that looks just like his current fiancee. In unlocking the mystery, he is drawn into an evil cult.

I must admit that this movie opens with an intriguing mystery. Unfortunately, the mystery resolves itself a little too early in the proceedings for my liking, and the movie turns into a devil cult movie with a love triangle subplot that is a little too ordinary. There are some odd touches; the cult is a bizarre cross between witchcraft, voodoo and Satanism (all of which have similar elements but which do tend to have differentiations), and the Russian Roulette style of sacrifice is interesting. However, some of the dialogue is melodramatic and silly, and the cult itself is hard to swallow; I take my hat off to every actor in the movie who can talk about worshiping the great god Gamba without breaking into laughter. The movie also shows how scotch tape can be used to defeat voodoo curses, certainly a useful household hint for certain households. The cast includes the father of actor Alan Alda and Commissioner Gordon from the “Batman” TV series.

Creature of the Walking Dead (1965)

CREATURE OF THE WALKING DEAD (1965)
Article #1674 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-14-2005
Posting Date: 3-13-2006
Directed by Jerry Warren
Featuring Rock Madison, Ann Wells, Willard Gross

A man moves into the home of his ancestor (a scientist who discovered the secret of eternal youth which involved the draining of blood from young woman, and for which he was executed). When he discovers the scientist’s body, he revives him, and a new rein of terror begins.

This is another of Jerry Warren’s attempts at taking a foreign movie (a researcher at IMDB says it’s a Mexican movie called LA MARCA DEL MUERTO) and, using his usual methods of minimal dubbing, slicing and dicing and tedious inserts, tries to adapt it for English-speaking audiences. He fares a little better than usual; there aren’t quite as many dull inserts, and the story remains somewhat comprehensible despite his fiddling. Granted, the story itself is so over-familiar that it’s harder to not know what’s going on. But an over-familiar story can still work if the movie is able to build a proper sense of drama and tension, but Warren’s fiddling prevents this at every turn; his avoidance of dubbing and use of voice-over narration makes everything that happens seem distant and uninteresting, and the movie has no emotional impact at all. And as for the inserts, they’re just as dull and distracting as anything else he’s done in this regard. Best example – there’s a scene here where Bruno VeSota (and for those of you who don’t know this actor by sight, let me just say that his physique is the polar opposite of that of John Carradine’s) has an endless conversation while receiving a massage. Now, if I were to make a list of things I don’t want to see in a movie, I’m sure that Bruno VeSota getting a massage is one of them; nevertheless, given the choice of trying to make sense of the droning dialogue and concentrating on the massage, I chose the latter.

The Crawling Hand (1963)

THE CRAWLING HAND (1963)
Article #1673 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-13-2005
Posting Date: 3-12-2006
Directed by Herbert L. Strock
Featuring Peter Breck, Kent Taylor, Rod Lauren

When a space mission is aborted at the insistence of the astronaut, the wreckage is strewn across a beach near a small California town. A young student finds the dismembered arm of the astronaut and takes it home for research, not knowing that the arm has a life of its own.

This movie has a poor reputation, and let’s face it; there’s something inherently silly about the concept of a hand crawling around and strangling people. Somehow, though, I just don’t have any real disdain for this movie; it doesn’t quite deserve its camp reputation as far as I’m concerned. It does have some problems; some of the comic relief is lame, the special effects are somewhat weak (though they were probably the best they could do for the budget), and the ending scene is pretty corny. Nonetheless, I think the script actually does an interesting job with the story, the acting is solid, the direction is efficient, and some of the camerawork is quite clever. It also finds the right balance between seriousness and light-heartedness. I also enjoy seeing some familiar faces in the cast, such as Kent Taylor, Alan Hale Jr., and Allison Hayes (who is sadly wasted in a dull role). Perhaps the biggest surprise was finding out that the Soda Shop owner was none other than Syd Saylor, a comic actor who I’ve never appreciated, but who I quite like here. In fact, he takes part in the best scene of the movie; the sequence where the killer teenager assaults the old man in the soda shop while the jukebox blares out “The Bird’s the Word” is a model of lighting, sound and editing, and is actually one of the most memorable scenes in a horror/science fiction film from the period. Not for nothing does the sole credit at the end of the movie go to the Rivingtons.

The Brainiac (1962)

THE BRAINIAC (1962)
(a.k.a. EL BARON DEL TERROR)
Article #1672 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-12-2005
Posting Date: 3-11-2006
Directed by Chano Urueta
Featuring Abel Salazar, Ariadna Welter, David Silva

A seventeenth century sorcerer returns to earth in a comet and proceeds to seek vengeance on those who presided at his execution.

Ten thoughts on THE BRAINIAC:

1) This is perhaps my favorite Mexican horror movie. That doesn’t mean I consider it the best; it’s supremely silly and can’t really be taken seriously. But there is something in the way the various elements (both good and bad) combine to make it an unforgettable experience. It’s one I come back to again and again.

2) Probably the most memorable thing about this movie is the monster, who, I assume, is the Brainiac of the title. Baron Vitalius is able to transform himself into an ugly demon with bad hair, a pulsing head, two fingered-claws, and a long forked tongue with which he sucks out the brains of his victims. He also has the ability to phase out of this reality which allows him to pass through things and people undetected. If you remember nothing else about this movie, you won’t forget the monster.

3) The movie opens with the trial of the sorcerer by the Holy Inquisition. I’ve seen variations on this type of scene many a time, but this movie comes up with some interesting twists. During the description of the torture applied to the sorcerer to prove his use of witchcraft, we discover that the sorcerer didn’t insist on his innocence, but merely goaded the torturers to torment him to their heart’s content, laughing all the while.

4) One thing you can say about Inquisitional tribunals; they aren’t very nice or fair. When a character witness comes forth to attest that Baron Vitalius is actually a nice guy and a generous man, the Inquisition sentences him to a whipping of 200 lashes (which may be even nastier than the Baron’s execution). At least, I’m assuming it’s a whipping; the judge merely says that he will receive 200 lashes, which will be applied in the torture chamber, which could mean that he will emerge with the most alluring eyes in all of Mexico. But I doubt it.

5) Abel Salazar, who produced the movie and plays Baron Vitalius, is one of the most familiar faces in Mexican horror cinema next to that of German Robles (who appears here in a smaller role). This is perhaps his most memorable role, and he has some fun moments here. My favorites: when the Inquisition reads the charges against him, check the big grin on his face when they get to “for seducing married women”. Also, notice how he always looks around suspiciously to make sure no one is watching when he eats his favorite snack – human brains.

6) One of the charges leveled against Baron Vitalius by the Inquisition is “for practicing dogmatism”. Either someone didn’t check the dictionary, or the pot is once more calling the kettle black.

7) This is one of those movies where we have a comic relief cop and a serious cop. The problem: the serious cop is funnier. He has my favorite lines from the movie; after visiting the coroner to here the results of his examination of the dead bodies left behind by the Brainiac, he is told that the killer is an expert on anatomy, and the cop replies “I wish there was some way to control the subjects a man learns. A maniac with a lot of knowledge is a threat.” I also wonder if Mexican police regularly use flame-throwers when apprehending murders; at the very least, you’d think they’d teach the comic relief character to use his correctly.

8) When the Brainiac arrives from outer space on his comet, his first act is to suck the brains out of a passerby and magically steal his clothes. He doesn’t steal the man’s underwear, though. I hope he’s not chafing.

9) At least some of the funny moments seem intentional rather than as a result of the dubbing. For example, the moment after the trial when Baron Vitalius magically makes his chains disappear and walks away, the fact that the chains are now found on the ankles of his two guards is obviously a joke from the original movie.

10) There is at least one very effective moment in the movie. During his execution, the sorcerer calls out the names of the hooded leaders of the Inquisition, and at that point, we can see through their hoods to their real faces. This is actually quite eerie, and it sets up a nice sequence later, where the Baron invites several people to a party and as each one enters, the Baron sees in their faces the identity of the member of the Inquisition from which they are a descendant.

Willy McBean and his Magic Machine (1965)

WILLY MCBEAN AND HIS MAGIC MACHINE (1965)
(a.k.a. WILLIE MCBEAN AND HIS MAGIC MACHINE)
Article #1671 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-11-2005
Posting Date: 3-10-2006
Directed by Arthur Rankin Jr.
Featuring the voices of Larry D. Mann, Billie Mae Richards, Paul Soles

When a mad professor goes back in time to make himself famous, his talking monkey escapes and enlists the aid of a young boy to help defeat the professor’s evil scheme.

When it comes to children’s movies, I have a strong preference for those with a sense of absurd silliness, and this puppet-animated movie has that. This is no real surprise, with the director being Arthur Rankin Jr., who was one of the people responsible for those perennial TV holiday classics such as RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER and SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN. The movie takes the viewer into several historical scenarios; we end up at Little Big Horn, the town of Tombstone, a Roman coliseum, Egypt at the time of the building of the pyramids, King Arthur’s court, and finally into prehistory for the invention of fire. The movie is consistently amusing, the characters fun and likable (even the villain), and this makes up for the fact that the songs are pretty ordinary. I do find myself wondering why the villain Professor von Rotten would choose as his first mission to become the greatest gunfighter in history; it would seem to me that if this attempt at fame went horribly wrong, it would undermine the chances for any further attempts, but then, I’m not a mad professor.

But I’m working on it.