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.


Aventura al centro de la Tierra (1965)

aka Adventure at the Center of the Earth
Article 2232 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-26-2007
Posting Date: 9-22-2007
Directed by Alfredo B. Cravenna
Featuring Kitty de Hoyos, Javier Solis, Columba Dominguez

Adventurers go down into the earth to face monsters.

Once again, I find myself watching a Mexican movie without the benefit of dubbing or subtitles, so the plot subtleties are lost on me. However, since this movie gives us plenty of monsters on the loose, there’s still some fun to be had here. In fact, it looks like our adventurers prepared for the journey by prehistoric monster footage; they watch a film featuring as much dinosaur stock footage as they could get their hands on, including Ignatz and Rumsford engaged in their battle from ONE MILLION B.C ., as well as the slow-moving dinos from UNKNOWN ISLAND . There’s also some primitive stop-motion dinos and puppet ones; after all, dinosaurs come in all shapes and sizes. Underground they face off against a big cyclops lizard and a fanged bat creature, who is not entirely unsympathetic. It’s a lot of fun, though it’s another movie that looks like real animals were hurt in the making of it; at one point, they set fire to a pit of snakes, and it doesn’t look like special effects. However, the cardboard bats that terrorize a man crossing a rope over a lava pit definitely do look like special effects, if not particularly special ones. All in all, it was fairly entertaining.


The Two Little Bears (1961)

Article 2231 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-25-2007
Posting Date: 9-21-2007
Directed by Randall Hood
Featuring Eddie Albert, Jane Wyatt, Soupy Sales

Two little boys want to become bears, much to the consternation of their teacher and their father, the principal of the school. They meet a fortuneteller who tells them they can turn into bears if they put on bear costumes, rub themselves with a salve, and say a witch’s curse. They do so, and discover that it works.

Had I known the basic plot of the movie, taken the time to look at it’s 4.6 average rating on IMDB, and known that it featured cutesy songs by Brenda Lee, I might well have prepared for the worst when I sat down to watch this. As it was, I went into it blind, and instead, I found myself rather taken by the cast, which featured Eddie Albert, Jane Wyatt, Soupy Sales, Butch Patrick, Nancy Kulp and Milton Parsons. Even the potentially saccharine “Honey Bear” song warbled by Miss Lee didn’t drive me off, probably because I found it an easier song to bear with than the one that opened THE WIZARD OF BAGHDAD the other day. As a result, I found myself quite charmed by this one; no, it’s far from a classic, but it’s unpretentious, has a nice sense of gentle magic to it, and in its own ingenuous way it mines some of the same childhood feelings as the superior THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE . All in all, I liked this one, though it may be simply because it hit me in the right mood.


Superbeast (1972)

Article 2230 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-24-2007
Posting Date: 9-20-2007
Directed by George Schenck
Featuring Antoinette Bower, Craig Littler, Harry Lauter

A female pathologist investigates the death of a strange, brutish man. Her investigation leads her to the Philippines, where she encounters a scientist engaged in strange experiments and a big game hunter with his own agenda.

The basic premise of this one holds some promise; it’s kind of an ISLAND OF LOST SOULS in reverse crossed with THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME . So why does this movie almost send the viewer into a coma? It’s not the acting; all of the actors seem quite competent to me. The location footage is also very watchable. No, the culprits here are the script, the direction, and the musical score. It’s one of those movies that tries to be mysterious but merely comes across as being annoyingly coy about plot points that become fairly obvious. Furthermore, the movie has a deadening pace; for every minute of action or conversation, there seems to be two minutes of people just walking around. The score is a very one note affair; it tries to be moody and evocative, but drones on and on without any change, even when the action requires it. As a result, we have a movie that manages to aggressively avoid being either atmospheric or suspenseful; in fact, it’s anti-suspenseful; I’d imagine it must be difficult to have a scene where two people go over a waterfall in a canoe that generates less suspense than watching paint dry. Only toward the end of the movie does the movie generate any life, and by then it is far too late. For insomniacs only.


The Wizard of Baghdad (1960)

Article 2229 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-23-2007
Posting Date: 9-19-2007
Directed by George Sherman
Featuring Dick Shawn, Diane Baker, Barry Coe

A genie has his powers taken away when he fails to prevent the assassination of a sultan, which results in the separation of two children who are supposed to be pledged in marriage. In order to get his powers back, he tries to reunite the children (who have now grown to adulthood), but he can’t find the man, and the woman has been promised to marry a usurper to the throne.

I’ve always assumed that the rash of Arabian Nights movies during the forties and fifties was fallout from the popularity of the excellent THE THIEF OF BAGDAD from 1940. Though any one of these movies may be acceptable on its own terms, taken as a whole, the lack of imagination and the endless regurgitation of the same plot make them for repetitive viewing nowadays. Now, if I had to make an Arabian Nights movie with the same recycled plot, here are some of the things I would not do.

1) Get budget-conscious Sam Katzman to produce it.

2) Turn it into a musical comedy.

3) Add a Mr. Ed-style talking horse.

4) Have some of the action take place in the world’s biggest outhouse.

All right, Disney managed to do number 2 with their animated version of ALADDIN (and possibly 3; I can’t remember whether the genie turns into a talking horse at some point, but he turns into so many things I wouldn’t be surprised if he had). Also, I’m not sure a movie with only two songs can be called a musical, but the opening one ( called “Eenie Meeny Genie” ) is horrendous enough to give me nightmares for a week. Also, I’m exaggerating about the giant outhouse; it’s actually a tavern of some sort, but any place with a big wooden door that has a crescent moon on the front is bound to to be mistaken for one. Dick Shawn ( who is perhaps most famous for playing the lead actor in “Springtime for Hitler” in the original version of THE PRODUCERS) is a good actor / singer, but the songs and the jokes he’s given here just don’t cut it. The action sequences are fairly decent, and, despite the very wooden acting and low energy, it occasionally sparks some interest in the dramatic moments. Incidentally, Sinbad, Omar Khayyam and Aladdin (played by Bill Mumy) pop up for short cameos. Still, with all the Arabian Nights adventures out there, there’s little reason to settle for this one.