Castle of the Monsters (1958)

CASTLE OF THE MONSTERS (1958)
(a.k.a. EL CASTILLO DE LOS MONSTRUOS)
Article #1749 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-28-2005
Posting Date: 5-27-2006
Directed by Julian Soler
Featuring Antonio Espino, Evangelina Elizondo, Carlos Orellano

A silly person tries to rescue the woman he loves when she is kidnapped by a mad scientist.

The above plot description is something of a guess, since this is another movie which I have only seen in unsubtitled Spanish. I’m pretty certain it’s a comedy, especially when the sound effects come into play. The first half of the movie takes place in the town, has lots of talk, and is fairly impenetrable to me. The second half takes place in the castle, and is fairly easy to follow; our hero meets a monster, runs away to escape it, and in the process meets another monster (repeat ad infinitum). What makes this amusing is the wealth of monsters he meets; Mexican versions of the Frankenstein monster, Dracula, the Wolf Man (two of them, I think), the Mummy and the Creature from the Black Lagoon all pop up. Then there’s the hunchback (who is missing the hunch but has the walk down pat) and the mad scientist to contend with. There’s also some dead body delivery, a few alligators, and one of those trap rooms where the walls close in to round out matters. This one gets by (in its present unsubtitled form) on novelty value and excess. That’s German Robles as (of course) the vampire.

Blood and Lace (1971)

BLOOD AND LACE (1971)
Article #1748 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-27-2005
Posting Date: 5-26-2006
Directed by Philip S. Gilbert
Featuring Gloria Grahame, Milton Selzer, Len Lesser

A girl whose mother was killed by a murderer using a hammer is sent to an orphanage. There she has to deal with her nightmares (about an ugly hammer-wielding maniac), her dictatorial headmistress (who keeps dead bodies in her cellar) and the brutal handyman.

“The Psychotronic Film Guide” says that this movie is one of the sickest to ever receive a PG rating (or GP, as it was known as the time). And when it lists the various sick elements of the movie, it has a definite point to make; this movie has a wealth of disturbing elements about it. So how did it end up with its mild rating? I can only attribute this to the fact that, despite all the horrible happenings, the movie seems to project an attitude that I can only describe as blase and slightly bored. It’s a bizarre attitude for a horror movie, and it might have worked if the movie had also aspired to being a comedy, but as far as I can tell, it’s supposed to be taken straight. This probably goes a ways towards explaining why this remains director Philip S. Gilbert’s sole credit. The performances of the adults aren’t bad (Gloria Grahame’s is quite interesting, as a matter of fact), and familiar faces abound; you’ll recognize Milton Selzer, Len Lesser and Vic Tayback. The performances of the juveniles are less so, but it’s really the listless direction that drags the movie down. Don’t confuse this one with a Mario Bava movie with a similar title.

Barn of the Naked Dead (1974)

BARN OF THE NAKED DEAD (1974)
(a.k.a. NIGHTMARE CIRCUS)
Article #1747 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-26-2005
Posting Date: 5-25-2006
Directed by Alan Rudolph
Featuring Andrew Prine, Manuela Thiess, Sherry Alberoni

Three women are stranded in the Nevada desert when their car breaks down. They are found by a man who offers them the use of his phone, but are instead chained up in his barn and made to perform like circus animals.

Let’s parse out this title before we start. First of all, we do have a barn. However, nobody in the barn is naked (not in my print, anyway, though I must point out that my print runs a few minutes short of the IMDB time, and there’s a jolting jump cut during a sequence with a snake which leads me to believe that the cut is there). And for most of the movie, the women in the barn are alive, but that’s before the mutant in the shed gets loose in the last five minutes. In conclusion, I would have to say that the title overplays the exploitation qualities of the movie somewhat.

As for the movie itself? When the main thing you can say about the opening of a movie is that it reminds you of MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE, that’s not a good sign. Director Alan Rudolph has an interesting career; he served as second unit director on several of Robert Altman’s films, and his own oeuvre contains several art-house dramas, but he seemed to dabble quite a bit in horror at first, what with this movie and his work with Alice Cooper. Yes, the movie is a bit disturbing, but any movie about a man who kidnaps, enslaves and tortures women is bound to be. The question is whether it has any other purpose than to be disturbing on this level, and in this case, I’m not sure it does. The nature of the madman’s insanity is somewhat interesting; he sees his captives as trained animals and is training them to perform. Andrew Prine makes a decent madman, but it’s still a one-note character, and the movie really doesn’t transcend its sleazy cheapness. This one is for fans of no-budget regional horror only.

Atlantis, the Lost Continent (1961)

ATLANTIS, THE LOST CONTINENT (1961)
Article #1746 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-25-2005
Posting Date: 5-24-2006
Directed by George Pal
Featuring Sal Ponti, Joyce Taylor, John Dall

When a Greek fisherman rescues a princess from Atlantis and helps her to return home, he is rewarded by being turned into a slave and forced to work the mines. However, he befriends a priest who knows that the time of Atlantis is nearing its end…

This is perhaps George Pal’s weakest and most disappointing movie, though to some extent it was not his fault; he was given a weak script to begin with, a writer’s strike put the kibbosh on rewrites, and studio tampering further damaged the production. As a result, the movie is horribly uneven. There are clever and fun moments (I like the scene where the fisherman and the princess talk to each other aboard the boat and don’t see the submarine surfacing and diving in the background), but other moments are totally cliched. The special effects range from the excellent to the awful, especially during the somewhat sluggish climax of the movie. What I think is most disappointing is that, despite the presence of Pal, this is really nothing more than a typical Sword-and-Sandal movie with an everyman rather than a Hercules type as the hero. I did enjoy seeing a pre-“Get Smart” Edward Platt as the priest who doubts the power of the Atlantean gods, and you should be able to spot the voice of Paul Frees several times throughout the production. The addition of an “Island of Dr. Moreau” subplot is interesting, but it is not incorporated into the story very well at all. At any rate, the movie really lacks that special quality that Pal usually brought to his productions. He’d done better before, and would do better again.

A Dangerous Woman (1929)

A DANGEROUS WOMAN (1929)
(a.k.a. THE WOMAN WHO NEEDED KILLING)
Article #1745 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-24-2005
Posting Date: 5-23-2006
Directed by Gerald Grove and Rowland V. Lee
Featuring Olga Baclanova, Clive Brook, Neil Hamilton

The commissioner of an African outpost lives with a woman who drives the white men to their deaths with her seductive ways. The commissioner learns that his brother will be his next assistant, and the woman begins working her wiles on him….

“The Motion Picture Guide” lists this movie as horror, claiming that the woman in question uses voodoo to make herself irresistible to men. There’s some talk of voodoo, of course, but nothing overt about the use of voodoo, so I find this assessment questionable, and the movie itself is nothing more than a marginal jungle movie. The commissioner is our hero, and he advises the natives to use wife-beating to keep their women in line (after all, it’s the native thing to do), and after he does, the natives leave doing a sort of “spanking” dance. This kind of racism and sexism pervades the movie, and though it is no doubt a product of its time, It’s still more than a little offensive. But then, I’ve never quite bought into the concept that it is the perfidy of women that drives men to do horrible things because they are helpless against the wiles of the feminine sex; if men can’t control themselves on occasion, I suggest they look at their own hormones rather than blame the other sex. The acting is pretty stagy, but that’s an early talkie for you. This is mainly for those interested in the career of Olga Baclanova, who would go on to play another evil woman in FREAKS.

The Net (1953)

THE NET (1953)
(a.k.a. PROJECT M7)
Article #1744 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-23-2005
Posting Date: 5-22-2006
Directed by Anthony Asquith
Featuring James Donald, Phyllis Calvert, Robert Beatty

The designer of a test aircraft (to be followed by one which will go into outer space) insists on flying it himself despite the fact that his superiors don’t want to risk his life. Furthermore, there appears to be a spy in the project as well.

The science fiction content of this movie is the aircraft itself, and the scenes of it tooling through the stratosphere are quite breathtaking at times. The movie also has an exciting conclusion that takes place in the cockpit of the airplane. However, these scenes take up only a fraction of the running time of the movie, most of which consists of some fairly tepid drama involving power struggles, loyalties, and potential romantic affairs. So once again we have an invention whose main purpose in the story is to serve as a backdrop for a more mundane drama and to serve as a prize in a plot by a spy. The patient fan might find it worth the wait for the flying sequences, and it also features an early performance by Herbert Lom.

Passport to Destiny (1944)

PASSPORT TO DESTINY (1944)
(a.k.a. PASSPORT TO ADVENTURE)
Article #1743 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-22-2005
Posting Date: 5-21-2006
Directed by Ray McCarey
Featuring Elsa Lanchester, Gordon Oliver, Lenore Aubert

When a charwoman finds the charm that her late husband had claimed made him impervious to death, she decides to use her protective power to help her in an attempt to go to Berlin and give Hitler what for.

I have to admit that I was so charmed and amused by the premise of this movie that I looked forward to seeing it. And sure enough, the movie is indeed charming and amusing; at least, it is for the length of time that it plays its story for silly comedy. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the movie starts to take itself seriously at the half-way mark, and, given the time, I don’t blame them; after all, the Third Reich really wasn’t a laughing matter. But it does become a thoroughly ordinary war-time propaganda piece at that point. Still, I always enjoy watching Elsa Lanchester at work, and the acting is fine throughout.

Night Watch (1973)

NIGHT WATCH (1973)
Article #1742 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-21-2005
Posting Date: 5-20-2006
Directed by Brian G. Hutton
Featuring Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey, Billie Whitelaw

A woman sees a murder take place in an abandoned house across from her home, but the police find nothing when they investigate. She begins to think that she is going crazy.

In some ways, this movie is inevitable; ever since the movie GASLIGHT set up a template for a specific kind of thriller, It would only be a matter of time before someone took the template and added the twist ending that can be found in this movie. And, to be honest, the twist is pretty good; it’s the best thing about the movie. Still, in order to use this twist, you pretty much have to follow the GASLIGHT template for most of the movie’s running time, and I’ve never been particularly fond of that template: I get annoyed with its predictability and its shrillness. You’re always treated to endless scenes of a hysterical woman screaming at people to believe her, and they don’t (because she’s hysterical), and this just makes her more hysterical, etc. etc. etc. The fact that it’s Elizabeth Taylor providing the hysterics doesn’t really alleviate the fact that the movie spends most of its time walking an overused path. In short, I didn’t find that the final twist really compensated for the over-familiarity of most of the movie.

Night in Paradise (1946)

NIGHT IN PARADISE (1946)
Article #1741 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-20-2005
Posting Date: 5-19-2006
Directed by Arthur Lubin
Featuring Merle Oberon, Turhan Bey, Thomas Gomez

When a sorceress is swindled by King Croesus, she vows revenge. She uses her magic powers to get Aesop to steal away Croesus’s bride-to-be, Delarai.

Hollywood ventures into sword-and-sandal territory with this costume picture, and if it takes itself way too seriously half the time, the other half of the time it’s aggressively courting silliness. Still, it has some good performances; I barely recognized Turhan Bey in what amounts to a dual role (let’s just say that Aesop is not quite what he seems), Thomas Gomez, Gale Sondergaard and Merle Oberon do fine jobs, but Ray Collins steals the show as Leonides, adviser to the king. It gets a little racy at times; in particular, a gag involving a statue being cleaned must have slipped by the censors somehow. It also has some of the worst crowd acting I’ve ever seen; notice how whenever a crowd gathers together, they’re all saying the exact same thing?

Meet Mr. Lucifer (1953)

MEET MR. LUCIFER (1953)
Article #1740 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-19-2005
Posting Date: 5-18-2006
Directed by Anthony Pelissier
Featuring Stanley Holloway, Peggy Cummins, Jack Watling

The devil enlists the help of a drunken actor to help him to destroy the lives of various people with the help of his new invention – Television.

Yes, here’s another cinematic attack (in the grand tradition of MURDER BY TELEVISION, TRAPPED BY TELEVISION and THE TWONKY) on that most insidious of evils, the cathode ray tube. At least this one knows it’s a comedy from the outset. It shows how television destroys the lives of all whom it touches; it drains the money away from a elderly retiree, destroys the marriage of a young couple, and turns a respected pharmacist into a madman and a thief. Good heavens, it’s worse than alcohol or drugs! No, the movie is hardly convincing, but I don’t think it’s trying to be. Still, the third story (about the effect that an anonymous lonely hearts singer has on the imagination of an unhappy young man) actually has a touch of poignancy to it amid the laughs. Ernest Thesiger has a small but memorable role as a cantankerous pharmacist who refuses to dispense drugs to handle any ailments which he deems to be the result of divine punishment. All in all, it’s a fun if inconsequential comedy. And it even takes a potshot at the 3-D craze before it’s all over.