Colossus and the Headhunters (1960)

aka Maciste contro i cacciatori di teste
Article 2242 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-6-2007
Posting Date: 10-2-2007
Directed by Guido Malatesta
Featuring Kirk Morris, Laura Brown, Alfredo Zammi

Maciste rescues a group of islanders who lost their home in a volcanic eruption. He brings them to a distant land, where they find themselves embroiled in a battle between distant relatives and headhunters.

The fantastic content here is, once again, Maciste’s enormous strength. It’s not as enormous as some other sword-and-sandal heroes, though; he gets two opportunities to bend the bars back and skips them both. He is good at moving heavy boulders, knocking down platforms and strangling two men at one time, though. There are no monsters and no evil queens to contend with. Despite a sizable cast during the battle scenes, this comes off as one of the cheaper movies of its kind, especially during the opening sequence. And, if you didn’t guess it from the above plot description, there’s no one named Colossus in the movie. Still, I will give the movie points for one thing; when it comes time to bore us with the ritual dancing, at least they make no bones about the fact that it’s done to kill time.



Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969)

Article 2241 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-5-2007
Posting Date: 10-1-2007
Directed by Al Adamson and Jean Hewitt
Featuring Alexander D’Arcy, John Carradine, Paula Raymond

Dracula, his wife, their evil butler, their homicidal maniac friend, and their hulking handyman rent a castle where they keep women chained up to supply them with blood and for sacrifices to the moon. When the ownership of the castle passes to a young couple who plan to evict the monsters so that they themselves can movie in, complications arise.

This is a rather strange entry in the Al Adamson oeuvre. Though it shares a certain similarity to DRACULA VS FRANKENSTEIN in that it gives us a wide array of monsters/villains (two vampires, a homicidal maniac who may be a werewolf, a moon-worshiping butler, and a big hulking deformed man), it doesn’t really use them in the same way. The biggest oddity here is in the character of the two vampires; Dracula and his wife are played as an effete upper-class couple who never attack anyone directly; they don’t even suck blood from their victims, but drink it in wine glasses prepared by their butler from the women chained in the basement. These characters alone make me suspect that the movie may have been conceived as a comedy, and the fact that I have something of the same reaction to NIGHTMARE IN WAX , which was also penned by writer Rex Carlton, only strengthens that feeling. It’s pretty mild in comparison with some of Adamson’s other movies, and there are story elements that I don’t care for. For one, in the final moments when the young couple take on all of the villains, four of them are dispatched with far too much ease, and all of the foreshadowing that takes place about the homicidal maniac losing control of himself during the full moon comes to precisely nothing; no transformation takes place of any sort, and, for that matter, he shows virtually no self-control at any time during the movie at all. And though Barbara Bishop is no doubt a very attractive and shapely woman, it’s rather hard to pay any attention to her in her opening scenes, as she keeps being upstaged by dolphins, killer whales, and walruses.


Black Magic (1949)

Article 2240 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-4-2007
Posting Date: 9-30-2007
Directed by Gregory Ratoff and Orson Welles
Featuring Orson Welles, Nancy Guild, Akim Tamiroff

A gypsy man discovers that he is a natural hypnotist, and decides to make a fortune off of his ability. When he meets the Viscount who had ordered the execution of his parents and his own whipping and blinding (the latter from which he escaped), he uses his abilities to gain vengeance. Of help to him is a woman who has a startling resemblance to Marie Antoinette. Soon, his lust for power and his love for the woman gain control of him.

You can file this one between SVENGALI and RASPUTIN in the mad hypnotist canon. Like Rasputin, he becomes entangled with the royal family in his pursuit of power, and like SVENGALI, he uses his hypnotism to try to force the woman he loves to love him. With his booming presence and piercing eyes, Orson Welles is ideally cast as the Cagliostro. He is also a character who really existed in history, though the story here takes enormous liberties with the true story; in fact, here Cagliostro is considered responsible for the French revolution. The movie is good but not great; occasionally, some of the acting is awkward and certain scenes feel rushed. Fans of fantastic cinema should recognize both Barry Kroeger and Raymond Burr as Alexandre Dumas, father and son respectively; they appear at the beginning of the movie only to set the scene for the story. My favorite scene involves an attempt by the physicians of Paris to embarrass Cagliostro at the court of King Louis, only to have Cagliostro turn the tables on them.


Baron Prasil (1961)

aka Baron Munchhausen
Article 2239 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-3-2007
Posting Date: 9-29-2007
Directed by Karel Zeman
Featuring Milos Kopecky, Rudolf Jelinek, Jana Brejchova

An astronaut arrives on the moon to discover that Baron Munchhausen is already there ahead of him. The Baron mistakes him for a moon man, and takes him to Earth to introduce him to his world. The astronaut meets and falls in love with a beautiful woman, but the Baron has his eyes on her as well.

If there is any director who I would like to have seen make use of modern CGI technology in crafting his movies, it would have been Karel Zeman. This is not to say that I find any fault at all with the special effects technology that Zeman did use; rather, because he was willing to incorporate any that came his way towards his own ends, I’m very curious as to how he would have used it and to what extent he he would have retained the other forms he already used. I think you’d have to go as far back as Melies himself to find another director who had so much giddy glee in his use of special effects, and this movie is breathtaking to behold; always creative, and decidedly non-realistic. It’s very interesting to have watched him so soon after having watched a Ralph Bakshi film; I’m willing to bet that Bakshi was influenced by Zeman, especially in his use of backgrounds. The story is a charmingly silly piece of chutzpah, in which giant fish, Turkish fleets and cannonball rides all come into play. Nobody made movies like Zeman, and I look forward to seeing more of his oeuvre for this series.


Night School (1981)

Article 2238 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-2-2007
Posting Date: 9-28-2007
Directed by Ken Hughes
Featuring Leonard Mann, Rachel Ward, Drew Snyder

A murderer is decapitating women attending night classes at a local night school. Police investigate. Potential suspects appear. More murders occur. Police investigate. We meet the suspects again. Still more murders occur. Police investigate, etc. etc.

If the plot description above didn’t clue you in, this is a fairly repetitive slasher film from the early eighties. The most interesting aspects about it are the appearance of Rachel Ward (and she has a nude scene as well), and the fact that it was directed by the man who directed CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG . It won’t take you much in the way of head-scratching to figure out who the killer is. Still, it does have one amusing scene involving beef stew. It makes up for the stupid final fake-out. And though I’m no fan of the Friday the 13th series, at least Jason has more creative tricks up his sleeve than anything we see here.


The Invisible Avenger (1958)

Article 2237 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-1-2007
Posting Date: 9-27-2007
Directed by James Wong Howe, Ben Parker and John Sledge
Featuring Richard Derr, Jeanne Neher, Dan Mullin

Lamont Cranston aka The Shadow, investigates the murder of a jazz musician and becomes embroiled in a plot to kill a political refugee from a dictatorship.

In some of my reviews of other movies about the Shadow, I’ve groused about how he never displayed his vaunted ability to cloud men’s minds. I didn’t know at that time that they were based on an earlier version of the Shadow from before the radio show, back when he was a more conventional pulp action hero. This one, however, is indeed based on the radio show version, and we finally get some scenes of the Shadow clouding men’s minds, and these scenes constitute the fantastic content of the movie, as he vanished before their eyes. These scenes are the best part of the movie, and they add some spice to what otherwise would have been a fairly static, confusing and unmemorable action thriller. It’s also helped by some nice New Orleans footage and some good jazz music. It was intended as a pilot for a TV series but was released as a movie instead.


You Only Live Twice (1967)

Article 2236 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-30-2007
Posting Date: 9-26-2007
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Featuring Sean Connery, Akiki Wakabayashi, Mie Hama

James Bond is assigned to discover the culprits behind the kidnapping of astronauts in flight before the United States and the U.S.S.R. go to war. His investigation takes him to an island near Japan.

Though I’m not a particular James Bond fan, I do have a sense as to which of the movies work better than the others. This was the fifth in the series, and Sean Connery would depart the series after this one only to return with DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, and later in NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (though the latter is strictly not part of the series). It’s entertaining enough, but I can tell it’s not up to the others I’ve seen in the series. Part of the problem is that the array of heroes and villains he meets in this one are simply not a memorable lot; even Blofeld disappoints somewhat, despite the fact that he’s played by the great Donald Pleasence. The other problem is that this is the first one I’ve seen that really feels like it was made to a formula; all of the other ones I’ve seen had their special strengths and unique touches, but this one feels somewhat routine. This is a bit of shame; after having seen FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, I was finding myself warming up a bit more to the whole series. At any rate, it really makes me appreciate the freshness of the other ones I’ve seen. Still, the series would definitely have weaker entries than this one.


The Bat People (1974)

Article 2235 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-29-2007
Posting Date: 9-25-2007
Directed by Jerry Jameson
Featuring Stewart Moss, Marianne McCandrew, Michael Pataki

A man is bitten by a bat in a cave. He begins to exhibit strange symptoms. People start to die in horrible ways.

Despite the obsession with bats and blood, this is more of a werewolf story than a vampire story. On the other hand, it’s hard to tell; one of things this movie fails to do is set any ground rules on the whys and wherefores on being a werebat. It’s also marred by an overly leisurely pace, too many close-ups of bats (who apparently shriek like hawks) and of eyes. Some odd touches here and there do help a little, but not enough. The seventies-style ending is odd, inconclusive, and not really very satisfying. All in all, this one is pretty forgettable.


And Now the Screaming Starts (1973)

Article 2234 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-28-2007
Posting Date: 9-24-2007
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Featuring Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee

A man brings his bride to his ancestral home without telling him about the curse on the family. She finds herself terrorized by the ghost of a woodsman with missing eyes and a missing hand, which crawls around and attacks people as a separate entity.

Don’t let that lineup of well-known horror actors listed above deceive you; Cushing doesn’t appear until half the movie is over, Herbert Lom appears as a cameo in a flashback sequence, and Magee has a secondary role. The main roles belong to Ian Ogilvy and Stephanie Beacham as the cursed couple, and Geoffrey Whitehead as the woodsman. Amicus Productions took a break from their horror anthologies to make this one-story movie. The acting is certainly acceptable throughout, with Cushing giving the movie a real boost when he finally shows up, but at heart, his character doesn’t really have much to do other than to weed out the background legend that drives the story, largely for the benefit of himself, the bride, and us, the audience; everyone else in the story seems to know the legend already, and to my mind, the movie tries to mine a little too much suspense from people not telling what they know. In fact, that’s the central problem with the movie; it overplays its hand in trying to up the horror quotient, and the action becomes a little too repetitive, a little too grotesque (especially when Ogilvy’s character goes wild near the end of the movie) and even inadvertently comic (in the scene where Beacham tries to destroy her unborn child). It’s the weaknesses of the script that drag this one down, though that does not apply to the original novella (if that is the correct word) by David Case, which I have read and found quite effective and much more restrained.


Wizards (1977)

WIZARDS (1977)
Article 2233 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-27-2007
Posting Date: 9-23-2007
Directed by Ralph Bakshi
Featuring the voices of Bob Holt, Jesse Welles, Richard Romanus

A wizard, an elf, a fairy and a robot set out on a quest to defeat an evil master of the black arts who is using ancient technology to take over the world.

Ralph Bakshi had a unique animation style, and simply on that level this movie is a wonder to behold; it’s a combination of offbeat character animation, stock footage, cuteness, and sensuality that really must be seen to be believed. Still, as fascinating as his work is to behold, he’s not as interesting in terms of telling a story, and as he runs through the gamut of different styles, he does the same with storytelling techniques. As a result, his attempt to tell an epic fantasy here is unable to settle on a consistent mood; there are times where I wonder if he’s actually trying to parody the genre, while at other times I think he’s trying to play it straight. Whatever his intention, he ends up never really accomplishing either; if it’s a parody, it isn’t consistently amusing, and if it’s serious, it fails to generate that sense of grandeur that would make it work. In particular, I think he makes a big mistake in making our wizard hero (Avatar) into something of a befuddled comic figure; I find it difficult to root for him, or, for that matter, to feel much of anything for him. It’s a shame; the story is basically quite good, and even though it doesn’t quite work, it remains interesting watching throughout. Still, based on what I see here, I definitely wouldn’t have chosen him to bring “The Lord of the Rings” to the screen, which is precisely what his next project was.