Experiment Alcatraz (1950)

EXPERIMENT ALCATRAZ (1950)
Article 1981 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-17-2006
Posting Date: 1-14-2007
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Featuring John Howard, Joan Dixon, Walter Kingsford

Some prison inmates volunteer to be subjects in a medical experiment in exchange for their freedom. When, during treatment, one of the inmates inexplicably kills another one, the authorities conclude that the violent act was the result of the treatment, and the experiments are abandoned. However, the doctor who developed the experiments is convinced that the fault was not in treatment, but that the killer had an ulterior motive for his action. He sets out to find the evidence.

Once again we have science fiction content whose main purpose is to serve as a side element in a crime story, though at least this time the science fiction element isn’t the prize in a struggle between good guys and bad guys. In fact, the story in this one is quite interesting; you do get caught up in trying to figure the motivation for the killing, and there is at least one doozy of a plot twist that I didn’t see coming, and which I thought was going to turn out to be a fake-out of sorts, but wasn’t. Had the presentation been as good as the story, this would have definitely been a keeper. Unfortunately, the way the story unfolds is sometimes needlessly convoluted; since there are no great plot revelations involved, I can’t think of a single good reason why the killing is reserved for a flashback sequence instead of presented in its proper linear fashion. The movie also seems as if it’s purposefully avoiding melodrama on occasion, which might be an attempt to give the movie a little noirish fatalism, but ends up only making the movie seem slower than it needs to be. The acting is quite good, though, and it features a nice little cameo from Frank Cady as an inmate whose collection of postcards provides a major clue in the proceedings. This one is not bad, but it could have been a lot better.

 

Death on the Fourposter (1964)

DEATH ON THE FOURPOSTER (1964)
aka DELITTO ALLO SPECCHIO, SEXY PARTY
Article 1980 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-16-2006
Posting Date: 1-13-2007
Directed by Jean Jospivici and Ambrogio Molteni
Featuring John Drew Barrymore, Gloria Milland, Joe Atlanta

Several people gather together for a party at a castle. They hold a seance. A murder is predicted. A murder happens.

Personally, I’m a little reluctant to be harsh to this movie; my copy of the movie is in pretty bad condition and kept freezing up on me, and how can you really give a movie a fair shake when that happens? Still, what I did get out of this movie is that it is your basic “old dark house” thriller, with suspicious servants, seances, murders, secret passages, etc. About the biggest thing new that it adds to the recipe is an obsession with sex; part of the plot revolves around a pregnancy, and much of footage in the movie consists of women stripping down to their underwear. This latter element no doubt holds a great interest for many people, and I will admit that the emphasis on sex goes a long way towards holding your interest in the movie until the plot gets going at about the halfway mark. Still, the movie was a bit too ordinary in terms of plot to really make it anything special; for me, it was a clear case of “been there, done that”. Still, without a decent viewing, it is impossible to judge whether the pace and / or the ambiance was up to snuff, and these aspects could make a great deal of difference in my enjoyment of the final product. So I’m going to write this one off as something of a question mark, though not a particularly promising one at this point.

 

El terrible gigante de las nieves (1962)

EL TERRIBLE GIGANTE DE LAS NIEVES (1962)
aka THE TERRIBLE SNOW GIANT
Article 1979 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-15-2006
Posting Date: 1-12-2007
Directed by Jaime Salvador
Featuring Joaquin Cordero, Ann Bertha Lepe, Jose Chavez

A man and his wife find themselves in danger when reports of Yeti on the loose begin to circulate.

You know, it didn’t occur to me until I began watching this one that there was something inherently odd about a Mexican Yeti movie; Mexico seems like a singularly unlikely environment for a Yeti to live in. Furthermore, this one lives in a volcano, a fact I was able to glean from Robert Cotter’s “The Mexican Masked Wrestler and Monster Filmography”, a birthday present I got that has proved very useful when I encounter one of those undubbed, unsubtitled Mexican movies. For one thing, I would have never guessed that this was a sequel, but it is; it was the follow-up to EL MONSTRUO DE LOS VOLCANES (aka THE MONSTER OF THE VOLCANOES, which is how I knew the above fact). Still, I always find it interesting to catch a foreign film without dubbing on occasion; it really brings home just how much bad dubbing is responsible for making foreign movies look clumsy and goofy. For the most part, this movie looks no worse than most American movies from the same period; in fact, with the exception of THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN OF THE HIMALAYAS, it looks better than any of the other Yeti movies I’ve seen. However, that only lasts until the monster shows up, and whatever mood or suspense the movie had generated up to that point goes out the window. In fact, the monster turns out to be a double disappointment; not only does he look like your fat uncle in furry long-johns, but he turns out to be – well – let’s just say if THE MONSTER OF THE VOLCANOES was THE DEVIL BAT, this is THE DEVIL BAT’S DAUGHTER, and that is not a recommendation.

 

The Monolith Monsters (1957)

THE MONOLITH MONSTERS (1957)
Article 1978 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-14-2006
Posting Date: 1-11-2007
Directed by John Sherwood
Featuring Lola Albright, Grant Williams, Les Tremayne

A meteor brings a rock-like substance to earth, which, when wet, sucks in all the silicates around and grows to dangerous proportions. Unless a way of stopping it is found, it threatens the safety of the world.

The story structure here is fairly pedestrian, and there’s not many surprises in the way this monster movie unfolds. Yet, despite this, this one remains a favorite. I can attribute this primarily to one thing; the monster has a great novelty value to it, in much the same way as the one in THE MAGNETIC MONSTER does. I really love the way the monster behaves; essentially mindless, it merely grows until it can’t stay erect any longer, falls, shatters into many pieces, and then each of the pieces begins to grow into a new monolith, repeating the whole process again a hundredfold. It is the sights of these pillars falling and shattering that stick in the memory here more than anything. And despite the fact that the story is predictable, it’s still well presented and logically holds together. John Sherwood mostly worked as an assistant director throughout his career; this is one of only three movies he directed, one of which (THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US) also belongs to the fantastic genre; quite frankly, I think this comes off a lot better than that one did. Keep your eyes open for a memorable little cameo from William Schallert as a weatherman.

 

I Saw What You Did (1965)

I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965)
Article 1977 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-13-2006
Posting Date: 1-10-2007
Directed by William Castle
Featuring Joan Crawford, John Ireland, Leif Erickson

Two teens spending a night together pass the time by making gag phone calls. They call one man and say “I saw what you did, and I know who you are!”, not knowing that the man just murdered his wife.

This is a fairly neat little thriller from William Castle. The gimmick was that some theaters installed seat belts to keep you from being “shocked out of your seat” by the movie, which, by William Castle gimmick standards, is pretty lame. The movie itself is one of his better ones, with a surprisingly strong plot; it’s quite fascinating to see how the story elements unfold to bring us to the necessary point we need to be for the scare scenes in the finale, though the crucial moment (involving a car registration) is a bit contrived. As always, I find it interesting to see how Castle uses the elements he borrows from other movies; rather than baldly stealing them, he usually gives them a different twist. Here, like in HOMICIDAL, he’s borrowing two elements from PSYCHO. He takes the shower murder and does a reverse twist on it. The other element is something I must be necessarily vague about, as it’s something in the nature of a spoiler, but I find it interesting enough to merit comment. Let’s just say that it has something to do with our expectations about the nature of the roles played by the starring characters in movies. Castle manages to both enhance and hamstring that idea from PSYCHO, in the first case by picking one of the most famous Hollywood stars of all time to appear in the movie, and in the second case by giving her a character whose fate is foreordained, given the context of the story. Incidentally, only one of the top-billed actors is playing a leading role; most of the movie focuses on the fates of the two teenage girls, played by Sara Laine and Andi Garrett.

 

The Secret Code (1942)

THE SECRET CODE (1942)
Cereal
Article 1976 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-12-2006
Posting Date: 1-9-2007
Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet
Featuring Paul Kelly, Anne Nagel, Trevor Bardette

A policemen is taken off the force for having become undependable, and he ends up joining a Nazi spy ring. However, it’s all a trick; the policeman is actually on a secret assignment to get the Nazi secret code. However, when the only other man who knows of the secret assignment is murdered, the policeman must succeed in his operation in order to clear himself. Even his alternate ego, The Black Commando, is thought of as a criminal.

I’m sure everyone caught the misspelling in the classification above by the movie’s title. I just thought it might be interesting to compare serials to cereals, or this one, at least. I think there are some similarities; cereals are mostly processed from the same ingredients so that most of them are pretty similar, and personally, I think the same could be said of serials. This one has some good ingredients; it takes the “Blinky McQuade” concept of a good guy pretending to be a criminal in order to get inside info, and it also uses the concept of “The Spider” in that the masked hero is considered a criminal by the law. What makes it rather unique is that here our hero can fall back on no law-abiding persona, and this definitely ups the ante on his part. It’s really not until the second half of the serial that he manages to convince anyone that he’s really working on the side of good.

Unfortunately, this serial is also like a box of Raisin Bran where all the raisins have fallen to the bottom of the box; you have to get through half of the box before you get to the good stuff. As usual, the first episode is pretty strong, but after that it falls into a purely routine pattern, in which the hero hears of a Nazi plot, but, because the spies don’t trust him, he is either being watched or locked in a room while the sabotage is occurring. He must escape, get into costume, stop the sabotage, and return back to where the gang left him so they won’t suspect that he is really The Black Commando. It’s not until he convinces his best friend of his true intentions that more variety is added to the plot line, but things pick up strongly in the final half. And the final fight in the serial shows a surprising amount of humor; it’s the only final fight I’ve seen in a serial that features a pie in the face.

The main reason I made the cereal comparison, though is that this one, like many cereals, has a free prize inside. In this case, after we have reached the cliffhanger, we have a short sequence featuring Major Henry Barton (Selmer Jackson) showing us how to crack secret codes; each episode is dedicated to a different kind of code, and it illustrates how to crack them and often how they are hidden. I found these sequences immensely entertaining, and I looked forward to them more than I did the actual serial.

As for the fantastic content, this serial features a few science-fiction style inventions, with the most obvious being a goofy-looking machine that the Nazis use to crack their secret codes.

 

Graveyard of Horror (1971)

GRAVEYARD OF HORROR (1971)
aka NECROPHAGUS
Article 1975 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-11-2006
Posting Date: 1-8-2007
Directed by Miguel Madrid
Featuring Bill Curran, Catherine Ellison, Frank Brana

A man returns home to his wife only to discover that she died in childbirth. However, he finds that everyone who knows the circumstances of her death is unwilling to give him any details. He decides to dig up her grave and find out the truth for himself, but he isn’t prepared for what he actually discovers…

You know, there’s something downright audacious about this Spanish horror movie; its fractured narrative, its jumping back and forth across time, and its offbeat camerawork and imagery make it a truly surreal viewing experience. Granted, it plays havoc with the storyline; at heart, the story is pretty straightforward when you get down to it, but the style makes sorting it out and keeping the characters straight a real chore. There are great moments (an image of man blowing cigarette smoke into a skull so that it comes floating out of the eye sockets will stick with me a long time) and awful moments (the scene where one of the daughters tries to lure a man into a sexual encounter with the line “I’m going to take a bath in perfume!” is the dumbest), and the monster attack scenes are surprisingly repetitive. The movie also doesn’t know how to curb its excesses; an hour in, there’s a five-minute montage of clips of moments you’ve already seen in the movie thrown at you which is nothing but an exercise of self-indulgence. The ratings distribution on IMDB isn’t really surprising; it has its admirers, but is soundly hated by a lot of people. I’d call it an interesting failure, and like most interesting failures, it is worth watching for what does work.