Unknown World (1951)

Article 1812 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-1-2006
Posting Date: 7-29-2006
Directed by Terry O. Morse
Featuring Victor Kilian, Bruce Kellogg, Otto Waldis

A group of scientists intent on saving civilization design a machine to travel deep into the earth to find a new place for people to live.

I’ve heard this movie described as DESTINATION MOON , only going the other direction – deep into the earth rather than into outer space. It’s a good description up to a point, but I think it’s really a lot more similar to ROCKETSHIP X-M , the movie that was made to cash in on the publicity surrounding DESTINATION MOON that managed to beat it to the theaters. Like that movie, it’s more concerned with its message of nuclear destruction (though most of the preaching in this one comes near the beginning of the movie) and the relationships between the various characters than with the scientific problem solving that was the soul of DESTINATION MOON. Sadly, the movie isn’t really up to the level of either of these potential models for its story; the script is weak, and the acting is uneven. It’s fairly dull for the most part, despite the fact that plenty of people are brought along on the trip so we can have several of them die on the way. It doesn’t really come to life until they finally reach their destination, a huge well-lit underground cavern with massive waterfalls. Still, the ending is certainly more upbeat than that of ROCKETSHIP X-M.

Ulysses Against the Son of Hercules (1961)

aka Ulisse contro Ercole
Article 1811 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-28-2006
Posting Date: 7-28-2006
Directed by Mario Caiano
Featuring Georges Marchal, Mike Lane, Alessandra Panaro

Jupiter sends Heracles on a mission to capture Ulysses as a punishment for the latter’s blinding of Polyphemus.

It’s sword-and-sandal time again, folks! And not only that, it’s another “Son of Hercules” movie as well. So, who’s the son of Hercules this time? It’s some guy named Heracles! But wait a minute – isn’t Heracles just another name for Hercules? Why, yes it is! So, the son of Hercules is Hercules himself? Uh-huh.

Okay, now the big question – How can Hercules be his own son? Well, I’m not sure, but I’m willing to bet it has something to do with the fact that Maciste has a time machine. I think it also has something to do with the song “I’m My Own Grandpa”. Beyond that, I think I’ll let this little conundrum go by the wayside.

Actually, this is a rather unusual peplum; the basic story arc doesn’t really cover the same ground as is usually tread by these movies. It’s more of a buddy movie of sorts. But then, what do you expect of a movie which puts two characters that are normally thought of as heroes in their own right against each other? Yes, it does have some silliness; neither the bird people nor the troglodytes are very impressive, for example. Nonetheless, I liked that one of our heroes is one who uses his brain instead of brawn, and I like the sequence where the evil king quizzes Ulysses to find out if he really is the famous conqueror of Troy. As such, this isn’t bad for this type of movie; it’s certainly less cheesy than most of the other entries in the Sons of Hercules series.

Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon (1965)

aka Gariba no uchu ryoko
Article 1810 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-27-2006
Posting Date: 7-27-2006
Directed by Masao Kuroda and Sanae Yamamoto
Featuring the voices of Herb Duncan, Robert Harter, Chiyoko Honma

A young boy meets Gulliver, who has built a rocket ship for his next set of travels. They go to the Star of Hope, where they encounter a civilization menaced by robots.

Fans of the exuberant melodies of composer Milton Delugg (most famous for “Hooray for Santa Claus” from SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS ) will have a great time with the English dub of this movie, as he supplies the music and the songs. Those not taken with his particular muse will find this Japanese science fiction/fantasy tougher going. Still, both groups will have to contend with the song where they give the talking crow a few verses to warble. It’s not so much that he’s a bad singer (“Hooray for Santa Claus” didn’t exactly have the finest vocalists ever produced by kiddom); it’s just that when he demonstrates this inability to sing, he does so in the aggressive raucous spirit of Ethel Merman, and the results are almost painful. Still, singing crows notwithstanding, this isn’t a bad children’s movie; it takes a little while to get going, but the sequences on the Star of Hope are actually rather interesting. Granted, I’m no real judge of children’s movies, though I do admit to having a little fondness for those that get rather weird and silly. This one was interesting enough that I may well watch it again sometime. Just excuse me if I turn down the sound at a crucial moment…

Twice-Told Tales (1963)

Article 1809 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-26-2006
Posting Date: 7-26-2006
Directed by Sidney Salkow
Featuring Vincent Price, Sebastian Cabot, Brett Halsey

Three tales based on the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne are presented. In the first, a doctor inadvertently discovers the secret of eternal youth. In the second, a man concocts a scheme to keep any man from taking advantage of his daughter. In the third, a woman marries a man whose family line suffers from a curse.

For those looking for a good companion piece to AIP’s TALES OF TERROR , this should suffice; an adaptation of three tales from Nathaniel Hawthorne. In fact, for me, this has one advantage over TALES OF TERROR; whereas I’m extremely familiar with the Poe stories used in that anthology, I have never read the Hawthorne stories that served as the basis for this one, so there was more of an element of surprise for me. The movie itself is pretty good, if not great, with solid acting and interesting stories. I enjoyed the first two stories the best; for one thing, I have read enough Hawthorne to know that his favorite theme is sin (whereas Poe’s favorite theme is madness), and this is apparent in both of the first stories. I’m less taken with the third, an abbreviated version of “The House of the Seven Gables”. I’ve never read the novel, but I remember that the earlier movie version of the movie I’d seen had only slight horror elements. Not so this one; what with ghosts and blood pouring from paintings, cracks in the walls, lockets, etc., this story is given the full horror treatment, but it feels grafted on, and it is this episode that most feels like an imitation of the AIP Poe series. Still, I liked the anthology overall, especially the middle story.

Shoot Loud, Louder…I Don’t Understand (1966)

aka Spara forte, piu forte, non capisco
Article 1808 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-25-2006
Posting Date: 7-25-2006
Directed by Eduardo De Filippo
Featuring Marcello Mastrioianni, Raquel Welch, Guido Alberti

An artist witnesses the murder of a gangster, but begins to wonder whether what he saw was true or a dream.

Whether this movie can actually be classified as fantasy or not is the first question to address here; I have at least one source that classifies it as such. To some extent, it is about fantasy; we have a man who has strange dreams, and then isn’t quite sure whether he was dreaming. Some of the elements of his life are certainly bizarre; his mad uncle only communicates with fireworks (and the artist understands him), and the girl of his dreams (or is she real?) keeps dumplings in an oven in her van. I actually like the central idea here, but I’m far less taken with the way this movie handles it, or at least the dubbed version I saw. The movie is frantic, shrill and annoying most of the time; it feels something like having a fever dream while people in the next apartment are having a screaming argument, and the feeling is neither pleasant nor fun. Nonetheless, Marcello Mastrioianni does a very good job in a strange role, but it’s the mad uncle who steals the movie (played by Eduardo De Filippo, the director). The best scene comes near the end, and involves a rain of wooden chairs from the sky. The curious may want to check it out, but it’s certainly not as much fun as it sounds.

Mermaids of Tiburon (1962)

Article 1807 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-24-2006
Posting Date: 7-24-2006
Directed by John Lamb
Featuring Diane Webber, George Rowe, Timothy Carey

An oceanographer investigates reports of strange mammal life around the island of Tiburon, and discovers that mermaids live on the spot. He also must contend with a greedy and homicidal adversary who is after pearls.

If this movie had been described to me before I ever watched it, I wouldn’t have expected much from it. Somehow, the idea of a movie that takes place mostly underwater and requires extensive use of narration sounds like a bit of a bore. And to a certain extent, it is; there were times where my patience was strained. The startling thing is that this happened far less than could have been the case. For most of the movie, the underwater scenes and the narration achieve a simple elegance that makes the movie rather engaging. I like the visions of the mermaids swimming underwater, and I was startled by a sequence in which a shark appears and we see the actors interact with it in the same frame; there’s even an amazing sequence where the shark and one of the mermaids swim together. One thing I found rather interesting is that our two leads (Diane Webber and George Rowe) never say a singe word onscreen; whereas the former is a mermaid, the latter communicates entirely through the voice-over narration. Almost all of the dialogue is reserved for either Timothy Carey (who makes a memorable villain) and Jose Gonzales-Gonzales (whose likeable character is badly compromised by the fact that there’s something a little offensive about the use of Mexican stereotypes). The movie is also nicely edited and not confusing, as it might well have been, and director John Lamb had the knack for effective visual moments; there’s an unexpectedly moving scene with a floating guitar and a bird. This one was much better than expected.

Thunder Rock (1943)

Article 1806 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-23-2006
Posting Date: 7-23-2006
Directed by Roy Boulting
Featuring Michael Redgrave, Barbara Mullen, James Mason

In the years before World War II, a British journalist spends time in Europe observing the rise of Hitler and fascism. He attempts to spread the warning of the upcoming war to his fellow countrymen, but is greeted by apathy and indifference. Disillusioned, he retreats from life by taking a job as a lighthouse keeper on an isolated island in the Great Lakes in the United States, and keeps himself company by mentally recreating the captain and several immigrant passengers on a ship that went down near the spot several decades ago. But these images he’s conjured up soon begin to take on a life of their own…

In some ways, this movie is fairly obvious; it’s sort of a variation on A CHRISTMAS CAROL, with a different lesson to be learned and a different modus operandi to teach the lesson. You should be able to figure out the basic direction of the plot once the lighthouse keeper’s backstory is shown, especially if you keep in mind that the movie was made in 1943 while Britain was still very deeply in war. However, the stories about the real struggles of the immigrants are engaging and powerful, especially as we see that the reasons that they came to America had little to do with the hopeful promise of new opportunities that the lighthouse keeper had attributed to their motives. It’s a long movie, and it takes a little while to get going, but it’s worth the watch.

I also find it interesting to ponder on the nature of the fantastic content. Do the immigrants and the captain remain mental creations, or have they truly taken on a life of their own? Their personalities may well have changed as a sign of the lighthouse keeper’s own reflections on the wisdom of his decisions, or they may have come to life in their own way. At any rate, their presence gives the movie an enticing way to deliver its message. I do know that there is enough ambiguity on this point to account for the fact that this movie is omitted from many guides of fantastic cinema.

Death Takes a Holiday (1971)

Article 1805 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-22-2006
Posting Date: 7-22-2006
Directed by Robert Butler
Featuring Yvette Mimieux, Monte Markham, Myrna Loy

Death (under the name David Smith) falls in love with the daughter of a Senator.

At the time of this writing, this TV-movie version of the Fredric March classic is sitting with the exact same rating as the original version on IMDB; there’s no doubt that it has its strong admirers. I suppose it deserves them, as this remake is not a disgrace; it has an honest interest in the issues of life, death, and they way we human beings deal with them. It’s worst problem is that in its attempt to be timely (references to Vietnam, talk about the ecology), it ends up dating itself even more than the one from four decades earlier. Nevertheless, I will always prefer the earlier version, simply because I will by my very nature prefer the moody tension of that movie to the sweet blandness of this one, a quality that is probably due simply to its being a TV-Movie, a form that rarely works well with me. Nor do I care much for the fact that this movie seems filtered through a LOVE STORY sensibility, and for those who prefer it that way. they’re welcome to this one. Me, I’m just glad that I don’t have problems with movies that are in black and white

The Brain Machine (1956)

Article 1804 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-21-2006
Posting Date: 7-21-2006
Directed by Ken Hughes
Featuring Maxwell Reed, Elizabeth Allan, Patrick Barr

A woman doctor believes an amnesia patient may be mentally unbalanced when she compares the results of a brain wave test with those of a known psychotic. When the patient leaves before she can do anything about it, she informs the police, who can do nothing because he has not yet committed a crime. Shortly after this, however, she is kidnapped by the patient…

Several plot outlines of this movie claim that the machine itself renders its subjects psychotic. Had this been true, this movie would have definitely fallen in the realm of science fiction. This is not the case, however; the machine merely records their thought waves, and though it would take someone with more of experience with these tests and machines to make the real call here, I’m suspecting that there’s nothing here that falls out of the bounds of the scientific knowledge at the time. Hence, the fantastic elements of this movie are at best marginal, and probably non-existent in science fiction terms, and though the madness that figures into the plot may nudge it a little in the direction of horror, it really doesn’t nudge it far enough. At heart, this is a basic crime thriller, and not really a bad one. It does strain credibility at times, but never so much to do it any real damage. Its biggest problem is that the climax of the movie emphasizes the actions of some of the less sympathetic characters in the movie, while the ones we care most about are not at all at risk at this point. Director Ken Hughes would later direct another movie I’ve covered for this series, CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG .

The Thing That Couldn’t Die (1958)

Article 1803 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-20-2006
Posting Date: 7-20-2006
Directed by Will Cowan
Featuring William Reynolds, Andra Martin, Jeffrey Stone

A woman with psychic powers discovers an ancient chest buried under a tree at a ranch. Though she thinks the chest is evil, the other residents of the ranch dig it up in the hope of getting money for it. However, the chest contains the head of a Satanist executed by Sir Francis Drake, and the head isn’t dead…

Will Cowan has over one hundred films to his credit, but this was apparently his only feature film; the rest were shorts, almost all of which intended to highlight musical stars. It was also his last movie, and I can see why he didn’t pursue a career in horror after this tired, lethargic entry. The idea itself is not bad, and I do like some of the touches; for example, though the head moves its lips when talking, no sound is heard, which is actually a rather realistic touch as a person without lungs could not talk; he does appear to make himself heard by those he possesses through his mental abilities. Still, the movie is a bore; it moves at a snail’s pace, and is packed with unnecessary and uninteresting subplots that appear to do nothing but fill out the running time; for example, there’s no point in establishing the fact that Boyd has designs on Linda when this fact plays no role in the plot to follow. All in all, I consider this the nadir of Universal’s horror movies.