Attack of the Monsters (1969)

ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS (1969)
aka GAMERA VS. GUIRON, GAMERA TAI DAIAKUJU GIRON
Article 2155 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-8-2007
Posting Date: 7-7-2007
Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
Featuring Nobuhiro Kajima, Miyuki Akiyama, Christopher Murphy

Two boys discover a flying saucer which takes them to a planet on the other side of the sun from the earth. The only two residents left are female aliens who plan to eat the boys’ brains. They also control a giant monster named Guiron with a head like a knife. Fortunately, Gamera is a friend to all children, and comes to the rescue of the boys.

Most of Gamera’s foes during his run of sixties movies were fairly silly, but this one goes off the goofy meter; Guiron’s head is a giant knife which he uses to slice and dice his victims. I’ve seen both of the two dubbed versions of this movie; the American International version (which goes under the title ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS) and the Sandy Frank version (called GAMERA VS. GUIRON). As usual, the AIP version has the superior dubbing, but is missing footage that can be found in the Sandy Frank version. Unfortunately, the AIP verion omits the most hilariously memorable scene of the film, in which Guiron totally dismembers a space Gaos by cutting off his wings, decapitating him, and then cutting him into slabs (did you know that the insides of giant monsters are solid masses without recognizable organs?). Sure, it sounds pretty extreme, but it’s more goofy than gory. Then there are the space women in gray tights who tempt the boys with drugged donuts, and shave one boy’s head in preparation for a meal the Brainiac would appreciate. Gamera races flying saucers, performs a gymnastic feat, dances go-go, and practices his welding skills. Yes, it’s all pretty cheesy, but I dote on Guiron, and who wouldn’t want to live in a world without wars or traffic accidents?

 

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Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969)
Article 2154 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-7-2007
Posting Date: 7-6-2007
Directed by Terence Fisher
Featuring Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, Freddie Jones

Dr. Frankenstein kidnaps an associate who has been committed to an insane asylum in the hopes of curing his madness and discovering a secret he had involving brain transplants.

I first encountered this movie when I was much younger. It popped up on a late night movie show, but I got bored with it quickly because it didn’t appear to have anything in the way of a real monster to it. I held a fairly low opinion of it for many years, and was quite surprised to learn that the movie was considered by many to be one of the best of the Hammer Frankenstein cycle. I looked forward to seeing it again, now that I was older and could appreciate other aspects of a horror movie than the mere existence of a monster.

Having seen it again, I find myself more agreeing with the assessment than not. Dr. Frankenstein has certainly never been more evil than he is here. Unfortunately, I think he’s a bit too evil; his rape of Veronica Carlson’s character seems out of character for him, Frankenstein may be evil, but not in that way. That and the fact that I don’t care much for the comic relief police inspector are my main problems with this one. Nonetheless, Cushing gives an excellent performance, and he’s never more fascinating than when circumstances force him to act quickly, especially in the scene where the wife of the kidnapped scientist visits his dwelling place, and he is forced to allay her suspicions (I find it interesting that Dr. Frankenstein himself, like Cushing, is a consummate actor). Still, my favorite performance in the movie is from Freddie Jones, who is deeply affecting as the man who has his brain replaced with that of the scientist; the scenes where he tries to explain to his wife that he is indeed her husband even though he’s in a different body are especially well done. The movie also has one of the best showdowns between Frankenstein and his creation that I’ve seen. I don’t know if it’s the best of the series, but it’s certainly the best one since REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN, and well worth a watch.

 

She Freak (1967)

SHE FREAK (1967)
Article 2153 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-6-2007
Posting Date: 7-5-2007
Directed by Byron Mabe
Featuring Claire Brennen, Lee Raymond, Lynn Courtney

A waitress in a small town tries to escape her dreary life by joining the carnival. She romances the owner of the freak show while seeing the ferris wheel operator on the side.

FREAKS was such a daring and controversial film that it was years before other movies would start ripping it off. I think this may be the first one. It takes an entirely different approach than the Browning movie, though; it concentrates entirely on the woman in what amounts to the Olga Baclanova role. Unfortunately, this means that the freaks are never developed as characters; as a matter of fact, except for midget named Shorty, we never see any of the freaks until the last five minutes of the movie. As a matter of fact, we don’t see much of anything until the last five minutes of the movie; if the filmmakers hadn’t loaded their eighty minutes of movie with so much incidental carnival footage, maybe they wouldn’t have had to squeeze fifteen of their twenty minutes of plot into the last five minutes of the movie. On the other hand, maybe that’s a good thing; it spares from having to see most of the cast trying to act. And there’s actually something rather interesting about seeing all these scenes of carnivals being built and taken down; it gives a little slice-of-life feeling to the affair. Still, it’s as slow as molasses and rather tiresome. The most interesting thing about it is the first appearance of screen villain Bill McKinney, most famous for playing one of the mountain men in DELIVERANCE. Ironically, given her character in this movie, Claire Brennen actually had a long-term affair with midget Felix Silla.

 

Seven Keys to Baldpate (1935)

SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE (1935)
Article 2152 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-5-2007
Posting Date: 7-4-2007
Directed by William Hamilton and Edward Killy
Featuring Gene Raymond, Margaret Callahan, Eric Blore

A writer moves into Baldpate Inn to write a novel under the belief he has the only key to the establishment. However, when several other people show up (including gangsters, women and a professor), he realizes that there are several keys. He then gets embroiled in a struggle over a big wad of money.

I suppose I could complain about how many versions of this story are out there, but this is only the second one I’ve seen; compare than to “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, of which I’ve seen at least nine versions to date. Also, since the story is only marginally fantastic (in this one, a decidedly non-ectoplasmic hermit is the “ghost” haunting the house, and he does precious little of that), most reference books omit them. I’ve already seen the 1929 version, and even though I don’t remember it very well, I get the impression that this version makes a number of changes to the story. Its play version by George M. Cohan must have been phenomenally successful to have this many versions of it made, but I suspect that its magic doesn’t quite translate to the screen; it’s only mildly funny at best, and the fact that the wise-guy writer refuses to be frightened by anything somewhat short-circuits its ability to build much in the way of suspense. Ultimately, it’s a somewhat confusing rehash of “old dark house” mystery elements. Still, the movie is enlivened by some fun performances including Henry Travers as the misogynistic ghost/hermit and a cameo by Walter Brennan as a station agent. It’s only a matter of time before the other versions show up in this series as well.

 

The Red Tent (1969)

THE RED TENT (1969)
aka KRASNAYA PALATKA
Article 2151 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-4-2007
Posting Date: 7-3-2007
Directed by Mikheil Kalatozishvili
Featuring Peter Finch, Sean Connery, Claudia Cardinale

When an expedition to the North Pole via dirigible ends in disaster and leaves a handful of men lost in the arctic regions, the commander does what he can to keep his men safe and to facilitate the rescue efforts underway to save them.

Usually when I list the actors, I just take the first three names listed in IMDB, which usually reflects the order in which they were billed in the credits of the movie. Every once in a while I feel compelled to make exceptions, such as in this case. Peter Finch only receives fourth billing, despite the fact that he is the central character in the story, whereas Sean Connery, though obviously the bigger name star (and it is probably due to this that he received top billing) plays what amounts to a supporting role; his character hardly appears at all during the first half of the movie, and has only a few scenes in the second half. This is not to denigrate Connery’s performance in any way; he gives one of his best performances as Roald Amundsen, and he gets the best lines of the movie (my favorite has to do with the perils of an arctic explorer having too little or too much courage). But it is Finch’s story, as it is his haunted perception of the events that unfold that gives the movie its themes. The fantastic content is something of a plot device; General Nobile is visited by the ghosts of those involved in the story, who sit in judgment of his actions. The ghosts (like those in THUNDER ROCK) are most likely not real, but they do serve the job of helping us understand the themes of guilt and the nature of leadership which are central to the story. This was a joint Russian/Italian production; it originally ran three and a quarter hours, but this version runs just over two hours, and since most of the cast is already speaking English, there’s no real dubbing issue to contend with. I also quite liked the performances of Mario Adorf as the radio operator on the expedition, and Eduard Martesevich as a Swede whose relationship with a nurse (Claudia Cardinale) ends up driving some of the rescue efforts. The movie is not perfect; even in its shorter form, I feel some of the scenes could have used a bit of trimming, but the ending is excellent, and it didn’t really deserve to be the financial disaster it turned out to be.

 

Flesh Feast (1970)

FLESH FEAST (1970)
Article 2150 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-3-2007
Posting Date: 7-2-2007
Directed by Brad F. Grinter
Featuring Veronica Lake, Phil Philbin, Doug Foster

A female scientist has come up with a radical method to reverse aging using flesh-eating maggots. She is hired by leaders of a South American revolution to regenerate their leader.

Veronica Lake’s career thrived in the the early forties. Her career took a nosedive after she changed her trademark peek-a-boo hairstyle, but she continued to work in movies and television for another ten years before disappearing from the industry. She popped up in only two movies after that; one is an obscure Canadian adventure movie, and this one, in which she was convinced not only to star but to invest her own money. It’s pretty awful; horridly written, badly directed, and amateurishly acted. Lake herself is long past her prime as an actress; she has moments here where it seems she has trouble with her lines and struggles with her props. Practically every write-up I’ve seen of this movie also gives away the ending twists, which is a shame; they’re about the only thing this movie has going for it. Up to that point, the movie is dull and confusing. At least the ending scene makes it into the realm of campiness, and Lake overacts monstrously as she exacts a long-awaited revenge. Though it was planned as Lake’s comeback, it ended being nothing of the kind, and she would die only a few years later.

 

First Spaceship on Venus (1960)

FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS (1960)
aka DER SCHWEIGEND STERN
Article 2149 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-2-2007
Posting Date: 7-1-2007
Directed by Kurt Maetzig
Featuring Yoko Tani, Oldrich Lukes, Ignacy Machowski

When a strange object is discovered to be a spool with a recording from another planet, scientists discover it must have come from Venus. Attempts to contact the planet prove unsuccessful, so an expedition is planned to take a spaceship to the planet.

With at least fourteen minutes missing, so-so dubbing and an altered soundtrack (it sounds mostly like stock music), it’s really difficult to judge what this movie was like in its original form. It’s confusing on first watching, but it proves more interesting on rewatching, and I suspect that it is somewhat better than its reputation would lead you to believe (it’s currently sitting with a 3.3 rating on IMDB). Still, though it’s interesting, it never quite becomes compelling, and the actual trip to Venus is full of cliches about weightlessness and meteor showers. The high point of the movie is seeing the landscape on Venus; it’s a surreal skeleton of a world, full of bizarre little pieces of technology and other touches, such as a seemingly sentient piece of slime and little hopping metal machines which apparently serve as some sort of tape recorder. I’ve heard that the original version of the movie is also out there, and I may just have to pick it up one of these days; I suspect that it’s a lot more interesting than the USA release. And I do find it an interesting touch that the cute little robot turns dangerous at one point in the proceedings.