Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974)

LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE (1974)
aka Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti, Don’t Open the Window, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue
Article 2278 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-18-2007
Posting Date: 11-7-2007
Directed by Jorge Grau
Featuring Cristina Galbo, Ray Lovelock, Arthur Kennedy

A new machine that uses sonic waves to destroy insect life has an unfortunate side effect; it brings the dead back to life and makes them flesh-eating zombies.

Yes, it’s another flesh-eating zombie movie modeled after NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD . But it’s a good one; it does a nice job of ratcheting up the suspense, it doesn’t follow its model slavishly, and it has some good ideas of its own. Still, I do wish it had pursued some of its ideas further; I liked the touch that babies born during the time the machine was being used are also aggressive killers, but it never does anything with the idea once it’s introduced, and it ignores the effect it might have on non-human and non-insect life. It’s a little too insistent on its ecological themes at times, and the “it’s only a movie” tagline had already been used several times before, but these are fairly minor quibbles. It’s definitely one of the better zombie movies from the era out there, and the bloody mayhem is definitely not for the squeamish.

 

Trouble for Two (1936)

TROUBLE FOR TWO (1936)
Article 2277 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-16-2007
Posting Date: 11-6-2007
Directed by J. Walter Ruben
Featuring Robert Montgomery, Rosalind Russell, Frank Morgan

A prince goes to London incognito in order to think over getting married to a princess from Irania. However, he finds that there is a conspiracy to have him assassinated, and he gets involved with a suicide club.

I’ve seen two other versions of the Robert Louis Stevenson story (“The Suicide Club”) that provided the source for this movie. The other two were both as segments in anthology movies, and I’m assuming that, due to their similarity, that they are much closer to the original story (which I’ve not read) than this one is. Those other two versions were close enough to horror that I didn’t bother to contest the classification, but this one layers on an elaborate attempted assassination storyline that makes radical changes to the story, and this, combined with the fairly lighthearted feel of the movie, strips much of the horror element away, and I find it very borderline. On its own terms, it is a very entertaining movie, with Robert Montgomery dashing and adventuresome, Rosalind Russell quite lovely, and Frank Morgan stealing the show as the twittery colonel assigned to protect the prince. It might qualify as borderline fantasy, as I believe neither of the countries from which the prince and princess hail do exist. And you should be able to figure out the identity of the mysterious woman on the ship long before anyone else does.

 

Escape from New York (1981)

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)
Article 2276 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-15-2007
Posting Date: 11-5-2007
Directed by John Carpenter
Featuring Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine

When the president is forced to use an escape pod when his plane has been hijacked by terrorists, he ends up landing in Manhattan, which has been converted into a massive prison due to the increase of crime. A bank robber is recruited by the police to go in, find the president, and bring him out.

Personally, I find the whole premise of the movie (that New York has been converted into a maximum security prison by 1988, seven years after the movie was made) to be utterly far-fetched, but the truth of the matter is that it hardly matters; the movie seems to be aspiring to a light-hearted goofiness that renders any sort of strict realism to be beside the point, and under such circumstances, I find the premise rather engaging. This is the second of John Carpenter’s movies that I’ve covered, and I like the way he tells his story; he keeps things smooth and efficient, but he avoids rushing and doesn’t attempt to overwhelm you with dazzle. He also gathered together a great cast, with Kurt Russell (as the memorably named Snake Plissken), Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine (who practically steals the movie as a chatty cabbie who somehow always manages to be there when you really need him), Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton and Adrienne Barbeau (whose costume almost steals the movie as well). I can’t bring myself to call it a great movie, but I do think it’s very good, and my biggest complaint is that I wish Kurt Russell would speak just a little bit louder; otherwise, his performance is fine. My favorite touches include one of the best running jokes in history (involving speculation on Snake Plissken’s current status vis-a-vis his existence in this world), and the great ending moment in which Donald Pleasence shares his cassette tape with the world.

 

The Changeling (1980)

THE CHANGELING (1980)
Article 2275 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-14-2007
Posting Date: 11-4-2007
Directed by Peter Medak
Featuring George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas

A composer moves into an old mansion that turns out to be haunted by the spirit of a murdered child. He decides to find out the truth about the murder.

I really found myself enjoying this horror/mystery thriller. Though it’s made out of some very familiar material (it’s basically a variation on THE UNINVITED ), it manages the neat trick of being both a good horror movie and interesting mystery without sacrificing either of the genres to the other. I also like the performances, especially George C. Scott’s, who makes the acting choice to not overplay. This gives his character an intelligence that many lead characters in other horror movies lack; for one thing, he refuses to tell all he knows to the police because he knows that the methods he used to get the information will not be taken seriously. The story’s a little slow out of the gate, but it does use the time effectively to build up the suspense; I especially like the moment with the dead key on the piano. The movie was supposedly based on a true haunting of a house in Denver.

 

Requiem for a Vampire (1971)

REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE (1971)
aka Caged Virgins, Vierges et vampires, and several others
Article 2274 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-13-2007
Posting Date: 11-3-2007
Directed by Jean Rollin
Featuring Marie-Pierre Castel, Mireille Dargent, Philippe Gaste

Two fugitive women find themselves prisoners at a castle that turns out to be the resting place of the last vampire.

Given the choice between having to watch the whole oeuvre of either Jean Rollin or Jess Franco at one sitting, I would opt for Rollin. Of course, there’s an obvious reason for that; the Rollin oeuvre would take almost a tenth as long. But there are other reasons; though they share many of the same cinematic interests, I get a sense that Rollin really pours his heart into every moment of his movies, which is an impression I don’t get from Franco. Once again, he’s indulging in the gory, the arty and the erotic, and though there is plenty of exploitation fodder on display, I never get the feeling that exploitation is his primary interest. In fact, there is something sad and moving about this tale of a two virgins encountering a vampire who has reached the end of his existence, and that feeling permeates everything here, even the scenes of sex and sadism. Surreal imagery abounds, especially towards the beginning of the movie when the two women are dressed as clowns, a touch I’ve seen in other Rollin films. I would have to pick this one as the favorite of the movies I’ve seen of his to date.

 

The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales (1960)

THE SKELETON OF MRS. MORALES (1960)
aka El Esqueleto de la senora Morales
Article 2273 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-12-2007
Posting Date: 11-2-2007
Directed by Rogelio A. Gonzalez
Featuring Arturo de Cordova, Amparo Rivelles, Elda Peralta

A taxidermist is mercilessly manipulated by his cruel wife, who puts on a show of oppressed martyrdom while doing everything in her power to make her husband’s life miserable. When he finally has his fill, he makes plans for a macabre revenge.

The horror elements aren’t the main thrust of the story here, but they’re there all the same, especially when you consider the husband’s job and the title of the movie. It’s really a rendering of that crime subgenre about the “perfect murder”, and it is a delicious piece of black comedy to boot. It spends a good two-thirds of its running time dealing with the wife’s cruel treatment of the husband, and of her ability to make everyone see her as the victim in the process. This is essential for the story to work; our sympathies are with the husband and must remain so even when he enacts his ghastly revenge, and it helps establish the characters of the various people manipulated by the wife, including a local priest, two biddies from next door, and her siblings. The setup of the perfect crime is brilliant, in that the husband uses his wife’s own wiles to clear himself, while setting up a situation where the most damning piece of evidence against him actually works to his benefit. The movie is not for the squeamish; we get to see just enough of the taxidermist at work to put us on edge. The movie is filled with great performances, but neither the movie credits nor IMDB attach character names to the actors, and outside of a comment saying that Arturo de Cordova plays Mr. Morales (and gives an excellent performance), I don’t know who plays what. It’s all deliciously entertaining, and highly recommended. My two favorite moments are when Dr. Morales finally gives in to his wife’s perpetual request to wash his hands with alcohol, and to the ending, where we learn once again that there is no such thing as a perfect crime.

 

Peer Gynt (1941)

PEER GYNT (1941)
Article 2272 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-11-2007
Posting Date: 11-1-2007
Directed by David Bradley
Featuring Charlton Heston, Betty Hanisee, Mrs. Hubert Hyde

A ne’er-do-well romances the women, defeats a mountain king, and travels around the world, leaving his true love behind.

The novelty value of this one is immense. Here’s a quick rundown of what is novel about it.

1) It features Charlton Heston’s first screen appearance.

2) It’s based on a play written by Henrik Ibsen, the Norwegian playwright who pioneered theatrical realism. Incidentally, this was one of the plays he wrote before he turned to realism, and is most likely the only one with enough fantastic elements (the mountain king sequence) to get included in this series. At least two other movie versions were made previous to this one, but those have remained elusive.

3) It was directed by David Bradley, who would hit a career peak with his next movie (JULIUS CAESAR), and then settle down to give us 12 TO THE MOON and THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN.

4) It was shot as an amateur movie on 16mm as a (mostly) silent movie; all but a few of the lines of dialogue are on title cards.

5) The music is by Grieg. It’s the score he originally wrote at Ibsen’s request for the 1876 stage production of “Peer Gynt”. You’ll recognize much of the music, especially the famous “In the Hall of the Mountain King”.

Judged as an amateur film, it is excellent and ambitious. However, since it is an amateur film, it does have some problems. It was shot in Illinois and Wisconsin, and it works all right when it’s trying to pass its location off as Norway, but less well when it passes itself off as Morocco. Charlton Heston (who was 17 at the time) definitely had that cinematic charisma even at this time, though he’s a lot more effective near the beginning of the movie when he’s playing his own age than he is playing much older. The cast was mostly made up of non-professionals, but overall they pass muster. Ultimately, the biggest problem I had with the movie is that the story itself isn’t very engaging; to me, it felt unfocused and overly episodic, and the fact that the character of Peer Gynt isn’t very likable makes it that much more difficult to warm up to. Still, as I said before, the novelty value is immense.

 

The Tell-Tale Heart (1953)

THE TELL-TALE HEART (1953)
Animated Short
Article 2271 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-10-2007
Posting Date: 10-31-2007
Directed by Ted Parmelee
Narrated by James Mason

A madman, haunted by a deformed eye and the sound of a beating heart, kills an old man.

UPA developed a unique and striking visual style for the cartoons they made in the fifties. and this may well be their masterpiece. The excellent narration by James Mason uses an abbreviated version of the story that manages to capture its essence; I particularly like a brief but effective coda that uses lines from the beginning of the story after the point where the story usually ends. The non-realistic animation uses abstract imagery in a powerful way, and it also makes wonderful use of sound and music as well. I’ve seen several versions of this story to date, and, along with the expressionistic short version from 1928 , this is one of my favorites.

 

Tarzan’s Magic Fountain (1949)

TARZAN’S MAGIC FOUNTAIN (1949)
Article 2270 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-9-2007
Posting Date: 10-30-2007
Directed by Lee Sholem
Featuring Lex Barker, Brenda Joyce, Albert Dekker

Tarzan gets permission from a hidden civilization to take a downed aviatrix that lives there back to civilization, where her testimony will help clear a man of murder. However, since the fifty-year-old woman looks like she’s in her twenties, certain unscrupulous parties become convinced that a legend of a fountain of youth has truth to it, and they decide to seek it out.

Once you see Evelyn Ankers as the aviatrix, you’ll pretty much have the whole movie scoped out; you’ll know the secret of the fountain, you’ll know why Tarzan and the natives of the hidden civilization are so protective of it, and you’ll know that the story will have precious little in the way of real surprises. Still, it’s somewhat fitting that a story about the fountain of youth is the one to usher a new, younger Tarzan into the role; this was the first of Lex Barker’s movies in the character. Still, this one feels very much like the Weissmuller Tarzan movies that came before; they don’t really take advantage of the younger Tarzan until the next in the series, and the biggest difference is that the swimming scenes are greatly abbreviated. probably because Barker, unlike Weissmuller, wasn’t known for his swimming ability. Brenda Joyce is back as Jane, but this would be her last time at the role, and the cast also features Albert Dekker and Alan Napier.

 

Tarzan and the Slave Girl (1950)

TARZAN AND THE SLAVE GIRL (1950)
Article 2269 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-8-2007
Posting Date: 10-29-2007
Directed by Lee Sholem
Featuring Lex Barker, Vanessa Brown, Robert Alda

A lost society in the jungle has been kidnapping women in the hope they will be able to repopulate, as a mysterious disease is killing them off. When Jane and a doctor’s nurse are kidnapped by them, Tarzan leads an expedition into the jungle to rescue the women.

With Johnny Weissmuller consigned to Jungle Jim films, Lex Barker took over the role of Tarzan in the RKO series. This is the first of the series I’ve seen with him in the lead, though it was actually the second of the five films he made as the character. The series does appear to have regained some of its savagery, due no doubt to a combination of the facts that a younger Tarzan was in much better shape for the action sequences, the departure of Boy had dedomesticized the series a little, and the erosion of the Motion Picture Code as beginning to show. There are some nasty scenes here, including a man’s face being cut and an elephant stepping on a man’s arm. Barker doesn’t seem quite at ease with Tarzan’s fractured English, but he’s lithe, athletic and moves like an animal. The story itself is pretty ordinary, and Cheeta’s antics are forgettable. Still, the movie really comes to life in the middle of the movie, when Tarzan encounters a tribe of killers who disguise themselves as bushes; there’s something genuinely unsettling about these natives that adds a sense of horror to the proceedings, which, along with the lost civilization, supply the fantastic aspects of this Tarzan opus. It should be interesting to see some of Barker’s other forays into the character.