Peril from the Planet Mongo (1966)

PERIL FROM THE PLANET MONGO (1966)
Article 2137 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-21-2007
Posting Date: 6-19-2007
Directed by Ford Beebe and Ray Taylor
Featuring Buster Crabbe, Carol Hughes, Charles Middleton

Flash Gordon returns to Mongo to do battle with evil emperor Ming the Merciless.

When feature versions of serials were being cobbled together in the mid sixties, it looks like FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE had the distinction of having two feature versions carved out of it. I’m thinking that the other version has the more interesting footage. As usual, I prefer the original serial because I find this sort of action movie easier to take in bite-size chunks. For the record, I still prefer the cast members playing Princess Aura and Prince Barin in the original FLASH GORDON, simply because they didn’t look like standard-issue leading men and women of the period as the ones here do. Buster Crabbe is still one of my favorite serial actors simply because he allows his characters to express a greater range of emotions than other serial heroes did. The best thing about this feature version is that, in comparison to most of the other ones put together in the mid sixties, this one is relatively short.

 

The Stranglers of Bombay (1960)

THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY (1960)
Article 2136 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-20-2007
Posting Date: 6-18-2007
Directed by Terence Fisher
Featuring Guy Rolfe, Jan Holden, Andrew Cruickshank

An officer of the East India Company investigates a series of disappearances in India. He comes to realize that they’re being caused by a murderous cult of Kali that specializes in strangulation.

At least one source of mine claims that this is based on a true story, though I haven’t found anything more at this time to back this up. If it is based on a true story, I’ve no doubt that some doctoring to the story occurred in this movie; much of it feels as if was plotted like a movie rather than a having been a recreation of real events. Still, it is a quite engaging movie and it did make me wonder about the true details of the cult. It’s well acted by all, and it’s quite brutal for its time. I like the touches of detail, especially during the scenes where the high priest indoctrinates the new members; the scenes where he relates the story of Kali’s battle with a monster (which explains why the cult uses strangulation) and the scene where he teaches a new member the methods of begging his way into caravan stick in the memory. There are rumors that two of the major roles were originally intended for Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (the Guy Rolfe and George Pastell roles respectively), but I think the movie works well enough without the extra star power. “Doctor Who” fans will enjoy seeing the Master himself, Roger Delgado, in a small role.

 

Spectre (1977)

SPECTRE (1977)
Article 2135 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-19-2007
Posting Date: 6-17-2007
Directed by Clive Donner
Featuring Robert Culp, Gig Young, John Hurt

Two criminologists turned occult investigators go to England to discover whether an ancient demon has been released from bondage.

Gene Roddenberry made several attempts to launch new series during the seventies via made-for-TV pilots, but he never had much success until he went back to the “Star Trek” franchise. This is one of his more interesting attempts; instead of another science fiction variation, it goes the horror route in giving us two investigators into the occult. It’s not entirely successful; the story seems confused and a bit muddled, and it’s a little too low key for its own good, but it also has a unique feel to it that makes me wish it had made it to a series; I would like to have seen the directions it would have gone. In particular, I liked Robert Culp’s focused but subtle intensity; there’s a real conviction to his performance. It’s also nice to see John Hurt, who would gain a certain genre fame by dying a horrible death in ALIEN (which he would reprise in Mel Brooks’ SPACEBALLS) and then went on to play the title role in THE ELEPHANT MAN. I suspect that this movie was released abroad with added footage; there’s some scenes in my copy that certainly didn’t air on network TV, so it’s a little difficult for me to say how racy it was when it first aired here. It’s definitely an interesting effort, and I suspect that it would hold up on rewatching.

 

The Shuttered Room (1967)

THE SHUTTERED ROOM (1967)
Article 2134 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-18-2007
Posting Date: 6-16-2007
Directed by David Greene
Featuring Gig Young, Carol Lynley, Oliver Reed

A woman returns with her husband to the island where she was born, hoping the old mill they inherited will prove to be a summer home. However, the woman has scary memories of her youth there, and not only do they have a strange and violent presence in the house, they also have to contend with a gang of ruffians.

I have strong memories of having seen this one in my youth, and for years it stood for me as a perfect example of how the horrors in your mind can prove to be far stronger than the horrors that manifest themselves on the screen. The movie still works at least partially; the opening scene is quite memorable, the use of sound and point-of-view camera angles is strong, and the door to the shuttered room (red with a spiky peephole) exudes its own sense of menace. The movie is pretty good at first, and at leaves the viewer with a sense that something truly demonic inhabits that room. However, the movie runs into problems; it becomes less interested in the scary presence in the house and more interested in the gang of ruffians that threatens them. On the other hand, maybe this isn’t a bad thing; the head ruffian is played by Oliver Reed, and he gives the best performance in the movie. He steals every scene he’s in and you can’t take your eyes off of him. It also adds to the general feeling of decay and inbred degeneracy that inhabits the movie, and Reed’s character, despite being a cousin to Carol Lynley’s character, clearly has designs on her that are far from platonic. The biggest problem with the movie can be found in the final revelations; given the big build-up they make about the demonic presence, and taking into account that the movie was based on a story co-written by H.P.Lovecraft, the king of unspeakable horror, one is bound to be disappointed by a horror that is utterly speakable. I was disappointed by the ending now as I was when I saw it as a kid.

 

Satan’s Triangle (1975)

SATAN’S TRIANGLE (1975)
Article 2133 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-17-2007
Posting Date: 6-15-2007
Directed by Sutton Roley
Featuring Kim Novak, Doug McClure, Alejandro Rey

Two Coast Guard pilots investigate a ship found floating in an area commonly called the Devil’s Triangle. All aboard are dead except for a young woman, and she relates the story of what happened.

It was quite common during the seventies to make movies based on real-life mysteries like the Bermuda Triangle. This TV-movie is one of several based on the legends of that place. It’s a potentially fun idea; it can be fairly entertaining to speculate on the cause of the disappearance of so many boats and planes from the area. This one takes the horror route, and you should be able to figure out what the explanation is, especially if you took the trouble to note the title of the movie. It’s rather short on surprises when all is said and done; when one of the pilots puts forth a series of logical explanations for all of the freak accidents that occur aboard the boat, you won’t be fooled for a second, especially since his explanations come across as less plausible than the real explanation. Still, the movie appears to have a bit of a following, usually among those who saw it when they were kids when this type of thing is more effective. All in all, I found this one pretty average.

 

Rashomon (1950)

RASHOMON (1950)
Article 2132 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-16-2007
Posting Date: 6-14-2007
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Featuring Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori

Three men gather at the Rashomon gate during a rainstorm and relate the conflicting testimonies of the participants of the murder of a Samurai and the rape of his wife which occurred in the nearby woods.

I am a huge fan of the work of Akira Kurosawa, who I consider one of the finest directors of all time. I find it highly regrettable that I will be covering only a smidgen of his work for this series, as he rarely ventured into the cinema of the fantastic, and of the only three that I anticipate covering, two are quite marginal indeed. I’m also a little disappointed that one of those three is this one; not that I feel it doesn’t deserve its acclaim (it would merit it just by telling this incredibly complex story in the first place), but because I don’t fondly dote on it in the same way that I do on THE SEVEN SAMURAI, THE HIDDEN FORTRESS or YOJIMBO, just to name a few of his other classics. The basic concept is brilliant; we hear four substantially different tellings of what happens in the aftermath of the capture of the samurai and the rape of his wife. One is from the bandit’s point of view, another is from the wife’s point of view, the third is from the point of view of the dead samurai (who tells his story through a medium, which provides the fantastic content to the story), and the fourth from a witness who never testified and whose story is, as far as it goes, probably the most accurate. It is the vast differences between the stories that makes it fascinating; for example, the samurai dies at the hands of three different people in the course of the four stories. It’s the performances that stick in my mind the most from this one, particularly from Toshiro Mifune (whose character is quite different depending on whose story is being told) and Takashi Shimura as the woodsman who discovers the body of the samurai and has secrets of his own. It’s a profound story, and the movie is definitely a triumph, but I think one of the reasons it isn’t one of my favorites is that I had more enjoyment performing in a stage version of the play. I played the character known in the movie as the Commoner, though in the play he is called the Wigmaker, who makes his living by selling wigs he made from the hair of the dead around the Rashomon gate. When I think of this story, it is for that version that my fondness lies.

 

The Satan Bug (1965)

THE SATAN BUG (1965)
Article 2131 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-15-2007
Posting Date: 6-13-2007
Directed by John Sturges
Featuring George Maharis, Richard Basehart, Anne Francis

Two deadly viruses are stolen from a top secret government lab. The person behind the theft is believed to be an eccentric millionaire. A security agent (who was originally fired from the project because of insubordination) is called in to help find and retrieve the viruses before the world is destroyed.

This slick and exciting thriller does have its problems; the story is a little sluggish on occasion and certain elements of the mystery will fool no one (though I’m not so sure they were meant to). Still, it has a good story and a fun cast with lots of familiar names and faces, include Dana Andrews as a general, Simon Oakland as a government agent, Frank Sutton (who I remember as Sergeant Carter form “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”) and Ed Asner as two henchmen, and Russ Bender and James Doohan in small roles. The fantastic element consists of the two viruses, at least one of which is used during the proceedings. All in all, it’s a fairly solid thriller, though the ending is a little weaker than it should be.