The Craving (1980)

THE CRAVING (1980)
Article 1822 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-11-2006
Posting Date: 8-8-2006
Directed by Jacinto Molina
Featuring Jacinto Molina, Silvia Aguilar, Azucena Hernandez

Countess Bathory and her werewolf assistant Waldemar Daminsky are revived in the twentieth century.

Yes, it’s another Paul Naschy film, and either the eighth or ninth of his Waldemar Daminsky series (depending on whether you think the 1968 NIGHT OF THE WOLFMAN was actually made or not), though it’s only the second of that series that I’ve covered. Once again, some horrendous dubbing gets in the way of giving the movie a fair shake, though I do think it is much better than FURY OF THE WOLFMAN . At this point, I’m not sure how interrelated all the movies in this series are; this one certainly doesn’t appear to be related to FOTW. Naschy had what was no doubt a sympathetic director for this one – himself. In truth, he’s one of the better directors he’s worked with, though. The story is fairly straightforward, if somewhat repetitive. Still, I have to make a few observations. One is that vampiresses really need handkerchiefs; Countess Bathory seems to always have a trickle of blood running down the left edge of her mouth; I mean, would it really kill her to wipe it off? Also, this movie gives us a new way to kill a vampiress; have her throat torn out by a werewolf. Now, if only the werewolf had torn out the throat of whoever it was who added that horrendous early eighties rock music that plays over the title and end credits, I’d be really happy. And one final note about bad dubbing; throwing in really bad cussing only makes it worse (though I do admit that one line involving garlic was rather amusing).

Psychic Killer (1975)

PSYCHIC KILLER (1975)
Article 1821 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-10-2006
Posting Date: 8-7-2006
Directed by Ray Danton
Featuring Paul Burke, Jim Hutton, Julie Adams

A man who has been unjustly sent to a mental institution for murder discovers the secret of astral projection. When he is released, he uses the power to cause the deaths of those who wronged him.

This movie has an promising premise (murder by astral projection), an interesting cast (which features Jim Hutton, Julie Adams, Neville Brand, Rod Cameron and Whit Bissell), and poses an intriguing question; even if the police know who is guilty of the bizarre and seemingly accidental deaths that have occurred, how can they prove it? The first part of the movie at the mental institution is the best part; unfortunately, once the inmate is released and the deaths begin, the movie takes a nosedive. Its main problem is the way it handles the murders. Though I understand the reasoning behind making each of the victims an unpleasant character so that the viewer is glad to see them offed, this movie makes them so over-the-top in their unpleasantness that the movie turns inadvertently comic during the scary scenes, and since the rest of the movie is taking itself rather seriously, it undermines the movie’s impact. Some of the dialogue is quite bad as well, and the police figure out the culprit far too easily. Ultimately, it’s a failure, but not an uninteresting one.

The Neptune Factor (1973)

THE NEPTUNE FACTOR (1973)
Article 1820 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-9-2006
Posting Date: 8-6-2006
Directed by Daniel Petrie
Featuring Ben Gazzara, Walter Pidgeon, Ernest Borgnine

When an earthquake causes an underwater lab to drop into an abyss, a small submarine sets out to rescue the people inside.

Those who have seen my MOTDs for VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA and AROUND THE WORLD UNDER THE SEA may well conclude that I just don’t like underwater submarine epics. And they may well be right. However, I must say that both of the above movies look awfully good in comparison with this one; at least those movies aspired to have interesting things happen, whereas this one seemed merely content to fill running time. At any rate, this movie has inspired me to speculate on what possibly might have been the most and least frequently used quotes on the set of the making of this movie would be. Remember, this is all purely speculative.

THE 5 MOST FREQUENT COMMENTS MADE ON THE SET OF THIS MOVIE.

1) “I need another shot of you standing there, saying nothing, and looking concerned.”

2) “I think we need another scene involving coffee.”

3) “My, that diving suit takes almost fifty pounds off of you, Mr. Borgnine.”

4) “Remember, don’t overfeed the monsters, or else they’ll end up belly-up at the top of the tank.”

5) “Sure, I can make an underwater movie. Just give me a toy submarine and a fishtank…”

THE 5 LEAST FREQUENT COMMENTS MADE ON THE SET OF THIS MOVIE.

1) “Let’s try for some suspense in this scene!”

2) “I want you all to do this next scene with feeling!”

3) “Hey, let’s lighten the proceedings with a little bit of humor here!”

4) “This is the movie I’ve been waiting to make for years!”

5) “A sequel? Count me in!”

And for those still interested, the fantastic content is that the movie has some really big fish.

The Evil (1976)

THE EVIL (1976)
Article 1819 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-8-2006
Posting Date: 8-5-2006
Directed by Gus Trikonis
Featuring Richard Crenna, Joanna Pettet, Andrew Prine

A psychologist buys a mansion unaware that it is possessed by a malevolent force.

There are a few decent scares in this “house-possessed-by-malevolent-force” tale, and the acting is certainly acceptable. The cliche-ridden script is pretty weak, however. It’s one of those scripts where most of the dialogue consists of variations of the line “What is going on?”, and where character development only exists in little snippets that have so little bearing on the ultimate story that they feel like they’re there only to pad out the running time. And when the horrors start, they’re trotted out so mechanically that it almost becomes laughably predictable. As a result, the movie never really comes to life; it feels more like an exercise in formula than a fully realized movie; even the title is about as generic as they come. Watchable, but utterly uninspired, despite the presence of Victor Buono in the finale.

Beast from Haunted Cave (1959)

BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE (1959)
Article 1818 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-7-2006
Posting Date: 8-4-2006
Directed by Monte Hellman
Featuring Michael Forest, Sheila Noonan, Frank Wolff

A group of thieves pull off a heist of gold bars and lay low in a cabin in the wilderness. However, they soon find themselves threatened by a mysterious monster.

There’s a lot of things I like about the this movie, most of which have to do with Griffith’s script. It’s one of those cases where the monster action is forced to take back seat to the heist plot, but the characters are rather interesting, and if it weren’t for the rather sluggish pace of the movie, it would hold the attention just fine. What I find most interesting is the way Griffith was able to rework script ideas and stories into new forms. This is apparently a remake of NAKED PARADISE, though that movie (which I haven’t seen) has no monster. Furthermore, this movie would later be rewritten as CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA as a comedy. Comparing these two movies is fascinating; I love the way Griffith would borrow and rework characters, sometimes keeping them basically the same (both movies feature an eccentric oddball who falls for a portly native woman), and sometimes reversing the situation completely (whereas the kept woman in this movie tempts the hero in her attempt to get away from her abusive lover, the equivalent character in CREATURE is thoroughly content with her relationship with a criminal and rebuffs the hero’s every attempt to draw her away from him). I also think the monster is fairly cool looking, but I also think it was a good idea that you never get a really good look at it either.

Battle of the Worlds (1961)

BATTLE OF THE WORLDS (1961)
aka Il Pianeta degli uomini spenti
Article 1817 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-6-2006
Posting Date: 8-3-2006
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Featuring Claude Rains, Bill Carter, Umberto Orsini

A stray planet enters the solar system and gives every indication of colliding with the Earth. When the planet goes into orbit around the Earth instead, a scientist begins to fear that the planet is controlled by outside forces and that an attack is imminent.

This is perhaps the best known of Antonio Margheriti’s Italian science fiction epics. It’s also probably his best foray into the genre, though I don’t think this is necessarily due to Margheriti’s direction. I’m still annoyed by his poor use of sound, especially when he tries for a montage sequence, and for some reason, despite the fact that most of the cast seems to be actually speaking English, the movie still sounds as if it were badly dubbed. No, this one’s strength lies in the fact that he actually got a distinguished actor for the lead: Claude Rains. Granted, it’s far from his best performance; in my humble opinion, Rains didn’t age well acting-wise (and he doesn’t really look well, either), and his performance is quite uneven here, as he occasionally seems to be having trouble with his lines and he overacts on more than one occasion. However, he still had that ability to command attention, and his presence gives the movie a solid center and an anchor which I find to be missing in Margheriti’s other science fiction movies. This is also the one I’ve seen the most often, and the plot has actually sorted itself out to the point that I can follow it easily. These factors go a long ways towards making up for the less successful parts of the movie. The first time around it’s confusing and finally boring, but if you keep focused on Rains, you’ll come through all right.

Beauty and the Beast (1962)

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1962)
Article 1816 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-5-2006
Posting Date: 8-2-2006
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Featuring Joyce Taylor, Mark Damon, Eduard Franz

A princess is betrothed to a prince who is cursed to turn into a werewolf every night.

Edward L. Cahn can do some interesting work on low-budget horror and science fiction, but he wouldn’t be my choice for a color fantasy movie. Furthermore, with the Cocteau and Disney versions out there for the pickings, there seems to be precious little reason to pick this version out of the bunch. Granted, it takes a different tack on the tale, but not a particularly strong one. For one thing, with our beast only being a beast for half of the day at a time, it’s not near as big a sacrifice for the princess to commit her love to him. Furthermore, even when the prince turns into the beast, he remains coherent and decidedly non-wild; he is merely ugly. He’s not even that ugly, as a matter of fact; Jack Pierce does the makeup here, and it’s the same makeup from THE WOLF MAN with minor variations. The production is pretty and colorful, but singularly short of magic, and the acting is pretty variable, with Eduard Franz and Walter Burke giving the best performances. There are a few nice touches here and there, but the turgid pace is another minus. There’s no point in settling for this version with the other ones out there.

Atomic Rulers (1964)

ATOMIC RULERS (1964)
aka Atomic Rulers of the World
Article 1815 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-4-2006
Posting Date: 8-1-2006
Directed by Koreyoshi Akusak, Teruo Ishii and Akira Mitsuwa
Featuring Ket Utsui, Junko Ikeuchi, Shoji Nakayama

Starman (aka Super Giant) (Aka Prominent Equipment Man) does battle with an evil country which is planning to use atomic power to take over the world.

Yes, folks, it’s Starman again, and he’s here to save the Emerald Planet from being contaminated from radiation from nuclear tests on the planet Earth. Given that the Emerald Planet exists in another galaxy, I wouldn’t think that would be such an urgent problem, but apparently it is, so they send Starman to save the Earth (and themselves). On the plus side, this is one of the more coherent Starman movies I’ve seen; on the down side, he only does battle with humans, and there are no atomic mimes to be seen (as they were in EVIL BRAIN FROM OUTER SPACE ). It’s edited down from a couple of features, and occasionally they have to use narration to fill in the gaps, but this doesn’t happen overmuch. As always, Starman is the biggest friend to children next to Gamera, and he entertains them by bending guns in half. He’s still good at those quick costume changes and those backward leaps as well. Yes, the Starman movies are rather silly, but I find them a lot easier to enjoy than their imitations, PRINCE OF SPACE and INVASION OF THE NEPTUNE MEN.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944)
Article 1814 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-3-2006
Posting Date: 7-31-2006
Directed by Frank Capra
Featuring Cary Grant, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair

A dramatic critic discovers that his two loveable aunts have been poisoning lonely old men as a charity.

I’ve long been a fan of the Joseph Kesselring play on which this movie was based, and at least part of this affection is derived from the role it played in the career of Boris Karloff, who rightly enough played the role of Jonathan Brewster on Broadway. I directed a scene from the play in college, and then went on to appear in a production of it several years later. This movie adaptation features many favorite actors of mine, including Cary Grant, Peter Lorre, James Gleason and Edward Everett Horton, and also features both Josephine Hull and Jean Adair in the roles in which they appeared on stage. The movie was also directed by Frank Capra, one of the most accomplished directors in his time. Yet, despite all this, the movie just falls short of being a real favorite of mine, largely because of two circumstances. Despite my affection for his work and despite the fact that his comic timing is impeccable here, I’m still put off by Cary Grant’s performance; I think he’s way over the top and that the role would have worked much better with a more subdued performance. I also can never quite bring myself to be won over by Raymond Massey’s performance in the Jonathan Brewster role, not because of anything he does wrong but just because every time he opens his mouth, I imagine what it would be like to actually hear the words coming from Karloff’s mouth, and I never quite accept what I’m actually hearing. Karloff was unavailable for the movie, as he was busy with the Broadway production of the show, so I can’t really blame anything but circumstance, but I do feel his absence tremendously, and it does hamper my enjoyment of the movie. This doesn’t bother a lot of other people, and quite frankly, I envy them for it. And I’m afraid that THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU isn’t quite an acceptable substitute, either.

The Vampire (1957)

THE VAMPIRE (Mexican) (1957)
aka El Vampiro
Article 1813 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-2-2006
Posting Date: 7-30-2006
Directed by Fernando Mendez and Paul Nagel
Featuring Abel Salazar, German Robles, Ariadne Welter

A vampire threatens the residents of an estate.

I must admit that the appeal to me of many Mexican horror movies has little to do with how scary or effective they are, but rather has to do with how strange and silly they look to my eyes; they’re fun, all right, but I can’t take them seriously as horror movies. Still, there are a few exceptions, and this is one of them; it attempts to tell a serious and straightforward vampire story, and except for the fact that it has a few dull stretches, it succeeds. It hearkens back to the Universal horrors of the thirties and forties, but it manages to find its own voice. I like some of the touches, especially the woman running around in secret passages doing her bit to battle the vampire. I also like the Abel Salazar character; usually, this person would be of the Van Helsing variety, but Dr. Enrique is not only a skeptic, but he’s a bit of a coward as well. All in all, the movie is very effective; it is only marred by the clumsy K. Gordon Murray dubbing. It marked the screen debut of German Robles, who would become something of a Mexican Bela Lugosi; he played vampires in the immediate sequel (THE VAMPIRE’S COFFIN ), as well as in THE CASTLE OF THE MONSTERS and all the Nostradamus movies. Salazar produced as well as starred, and he is also remembered for playing Baron Vitalius in the hilarious THE BRAINIAC , which would also feature Robles in a small role. This one is recommended for anyone wishing to experience Mexican horror at its best.