Toto all’inferno (1954)

TOTO ALL’INFERNO (1954)
aka Toto in Hell
Article 2486 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-24-2008
Posting Date: 6-2-2008
Directed by Camillo Mastrocinque
Featuring Toto, Maria Frau, Fulvia Franco
Country: Italy

Toto has an accident while trying to commit suicide, goes to hell, visits beatniks, marries a Siamese twin, and has other misadventures.

I’ve only encountered the Italian comedian Toto once before, and that was in TOTO NELLA LUNA. I had trouble appreciating that one because it was in unsubtitled Italian; this one has the same obstacle. I’ve heard tell that he’s a fine comic actor, and I have no reason to doubt it; the scenes here that don’t rely on dialogue for humor (especially the opening sequence, during which not a single word is spoken) are very amusing. Nevertheless, I really wish I could follow the plot; I’d love to see how the movie ties together the various threads. The scenes in hell are a lot of visual fun, and they’re in color while the rest of the movie is in black and white, much like THE WIZARD OF OZ (which also features a Toto; in fact, I wonder if that may not be a coincidence). I look forward to seeing a subtitled version some day; this one looks very entertaining.

 

Santo vs. Baron Brakola (1967)

SANTO VS. BARON BRAKOLA (1967)
aka El Baron Brakola
Article 2485 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-23-2008
Posting Date: 6-1-2008
Directed by Jose Diaz Morales
Featuring Santo, Fernando Oses, Mercedes Carreno
Country: Mexico

Santo has to do battle with an evil vampire named Baron Brakola.

Brakola? Brakola? Hmm… the name sounds vaguely like that of one of the most famous horror characters of all time. Once you make the connection, you’ll know in advance that Santo is battling a vampire this time out before the movie even starts, and, considering that my copy is in unsubtitled Spanish, any hint helps. Nevertheless, I would have been able to figure out he was a vampire from square one, as his pointed teeth and penchant for biting women on the neck gives it away. All in all, this one is fairly easy to understand even in its unsubtitled form, and has an amusing backstory in which one of Santo’s ancestors also does battle with Baron Brakola. It’s the basic “Dracula” story with Santo in the Van Helsing role, or, if you prefer, imagine Van Helsing as a Mexican wrestler. Hey, here’s some scenarios to imagine – a bare-chested Edward Van Sloan in tights, mask, and cape wrestling Bela Lugosi. Or, even better, bare-chested Peter Cushing in mask, tights and cape wrestling with Christopher Lee!

Wait a second… I really didn’t want to conjure up those visions. Now I WILL have nightmares tonight.

 

El fantasma del convento (1934)

EL FANTASMA DEL CONVENTO (1934)
aka Phantom of the Convent
Article 2484 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-22-2008
Posting Date: 5-31-2008
Directed by Fernando de Fuentes
Featuring Enrique del Campo, Marta Roel, Carlos Villatoro
Country: Mexico

Two men and a woman lost in the woods are taken to a convent by a monk with his dog. There they encounter a group of mysterious monks and eerie happenings.

If it hasn’t already happened, I hope someday someone gets it into their head to restore some of the older Mexican horror films and give them subtitles. When they do, I hope this one is at the top of their list. Yes, I have trouble figuring out what’s going on because of the language problem, but the movie is full of so many interesting and strange touches (including a room with a large cross nailed across the door, a bat’s shadow on the wall, and a tilted cabinet) that I found myself intrigued and caught up in it anyway. It makes excellent use of silence and sound throughout, and I think this one may be one of the best of the Mexican horror movies. However, a lot hinges on the dialogue and explanations, which I can’t follow. One of these days, I may just set out to learn Spanish…

 

Francis in the Navy (1955)

FRANCIS IN THE NAVY (1955)
Article 2483 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-21-2008
Posting Date: 5-30-2008
Directed by Arthur Lubin
Featuring Donald O’Connor, Martha Hyer, Richard Erdman
Country: USA

Peter Stirling has to rescue Francis the Talking Mule from being sold as surplus by the Navy. Unfortunately, he looks exactly like a sailor who steals his identity. The Navy mistakes Stirling for his lookalike, and he has to convince them they have the wrong man.

Once more into the breach! To its credit, this movie tries to avoid regurgitating the same Francis plot that most of the other movies followed. However, the creation of an identical lookalike doesn’t really give us a lot of variety to the humor; just how many laughs can you get having one person mistaken for another? Once again, it’s the actors who show up in the supporting cast that are the real novelty; there’s Jim Backus, Martin Milner, David Janssen and (hold onto your hats) Clint Eastwood. Somehow, I have visions of one of the movie companies putting out a Clint Eastwood DVD set and including this one. Make no mistake; if the movie was in public domain, we’d be seeing copies of this all over the place with Eastwood’s face on the cover.

This was almost the end of the line for the series. By the time the next one rolled around, Arthur Lubin, Donold O’Connor and Chill Wills had departed.

 

The Cobra Strikes (1948)

THE COBRA STRIKES (1948)
Article 2482 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-20-2008
Posting Date: 5-29-2008
Directed by Charles Reinsner
Featuring Richard Fraser, Sheila Ryan, Leslie Brooks
Country: USA

A scientist is struck down and his new invention is stolen, but no one seems to know what the purpose of the invention was. Then, people begin dying from poison, but no one knows how the victims are being poisoned.

This is a low-budget mystery that runs just over an hour, and that piece of information should tell you not to expect too much. Still, for a movie of this ilk, it has its moments. One positive thing is that the science fiction content (the mysterious invention) is not just a Gizmo McGuffin but is an essential part of the mystery. There is also a memorable murder scene in a steambath, and a bizarre plot element involving disappearing and reappearing jeweled elephants. There’s also a scene where people gather together to watch stock footage; all right, they’re supposed to be watching a big game hunter’s safari footage, but you’ll know better. One fun scene has the inventor giving a clue as to who the murderer is; see if you can figure out the meaning of the clue before the characters in the movie do (you won’t have long, but you should be able to).

 

Daughter of Darkness (1948)

DAUGHTER OF DARKNESS (1948)
Article 2481 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-19-2008
Posting Date: 5-28-2008
Directed by Lance Comfort
Featuring Anne Crawford, Maxwell Reed, Siobhan McKenna
Country: UK

A female servant to a priest is driven out of town by women who dislike her and sense something wrong about her. She becomes a maid with a farm family, but it soon becomes apparent that she is dangerous and insane.

The last movie I’ve seen from director Lance Comfort was the poor but similarly-titled DEVILS OF DARKNESS. This one is far better. It’s not easily described; it’s a horror/crime movie, with the insanity of the maid being the primary horror element. The maid is considered a bad influence because of her power she gains over men, and Irish actress Siobhan McKenna does a stunning job in the role; she’s not conventionally beautiful by any means, but she has a way of projecting a truly unhealthy sexuality, both alluring and dangerously repressed, that makes the rest of the movie convincing. The movie has some memorable scenes, including an organ-playing sequence that recalls a moment from CARNIVAL OF SOULS, some great crowd footage, especially during the carnival scenes, and a truly memorable shot of a dog standing on the moors, his cold breath turning to smoke in the wind. The movie also features early roles for both Barry Morse and Honor Blackman. This movie is unjustly forgotten, but worth a look, as McKenna makes for one of the most memorable psychos in film history.

 

The Invisible Terror (1963)

THE INVISIBLE TERROR (1963)
aka Der Unsichtbare
Article 2480 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-18-2008
Posting Date: 5-27-2008
Directed by Raphael Nussbaum
Featuring Hannes Schmidhauser, Ellen Schwiers, Herbert Stass
Country: West Germany

A scientist creates an invisibility formula. Unfortunately, he vanishes at the same time a guard is murdered during a payroll robbery.

It starts out like your basic science fiction story, but once the invisibility formula starts being used, the invisible man vanishes. Unfortunately, I don’t mean just that he becomes invisible; I mean that for a goodly portion of the story, he seems to disappear from the storyline, as the movie takes a turn into krimi territory; this is a German movie from the early sixties, you know. It even name-drops the Edgar Wallace series at one point. In short, it largely turns into a crime/mystery movie, and, like too many of the krimis, too many characters clutter the landscape, and it becomes nearly impossible to follow. There’s the occasional interesting idea (invisible men show up in photographs) and the oddball character here and there (the harmonica player named Fatso who would take advantage of invisibility by following Brigitte Bardot), but for the most part, it’s a badly-dubbed bore. It did make me want to go out and buy a guinea pig, though.

 

King Arthur, the Young Warlord (1975)

KING ARTHUR, THE YOUNG WARLORD (1975)
Article 2479 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-17-2008
Posting Date: 5-26-2008
Directed by Sidney Hayers, Pat Jackson, Peter Sasdy
Featuring Oliver Tobias, John Watson, Michael Gothard
Country: UK

The adventures of a young Arthur, before he became king, are recounted.

My source for this one claimed it was a British TV Movie. Maybe so, but on viewing, I began to detect that unmistakable odor of episodes of a TV series edited together to form a movie. You know the sense; that feeling that you’re watching a series of disconnected stories without any real overriding arc. And, sure enough, that’s just what this is; it was edited from several episodes of a series called “Arthur and the Britons”. It doesn’t appear to be a bad series; the whole thing kept me well entertained, and the performances are all very good, with Jack Watson (as Arthur’s iron-armed sidekick Llud) and Brian Blessed (as rival warlord Mark of Cornwall) particularly memorable; the latter (who, to my mind, is notoriously given to overacting) is only over-the-top during the opening story. Then there’s the issue of the fantastic content to deal with. The basic legend of King Arthur has ample fantastic content, what with the Excalibur story and Merlin the magician coming to mind. However, the only character from Arthurian legends here is Arthur himself, and everything is done in a realistic mode; in other words, no magic or other fantastic elements. If the whole King Arthur story qualifies, this movie might qualify as borderline fantasy; as it is, it’s more historical fiction. Still, I much prefer the look and feel of this take on the character than I do in either KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE or THE SWORD IN THE STONE.

 

Blue Demon contra las diabolicas (1968)

BLUE DEMON CONTRA LAS DIABOLICAS (1968)
aka Blue Demon Vs. the Diabolical Women
Article 2478 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-16-2008
Posting Date: 5-25-2008
Directed by Chano Urueta
Featuring David Reynoso, Ana Martin, Alejandro Munoz Moreno
Country: Mexico

Blue Demon must catch a gang of crooks. He must also contend with a murderer who wears a Blue Demon costume when he attacks women.

This was the first color Blue Demon movie, and it feels like a companion piece to the one I covered a little while ago, BLUE DEMON CONTRA CEREBROS INFERNALES. Same wrestling hero, same garish colors, same snazzy nightclub, same band with the thyroidal trumpet, same lack of English dubbing. With the latter condition, it is, of course, hard to follow, and you’ll probably be scratching your head wondering where the diabolical women are; the bad guys all look like men. Of course, there’s the ringleader, whose back is always turned away from us; and once you notice that the boss’s voice changing during the course of the movie, you’ll figure out the final revelation – that is, if the title didn’t give it away. Of course, with a sham Blue Demon wandering around, you know you’re going to have a fight between them at some point where you can’t tell one from the other, and sure enough, there is one; the only surprise is that it’s actually in the wrestling ring. However, the fantastic content seems particularly lacking in this one, unless some of Blue Demon’s gizmos move it into the realm of marginal science fiction. Personally, I found the follow-up movie mentioned above to be more fun.

 

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962)
Article 2477 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-13-2008
Posting Date: 5-24-2008
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Featuring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh
Country: USA

A Korean war veteran receives the Medal of Honor for having rescued nine men from his platoon. However, when a Major in the military begins to suffer nightmares that seem to contradict this event, he tries to find the truth. He discovers that the war hero has actually been brainwashed by communists to assassinate someone – but who, when and where?

The last movie for this series that I’ve seen from John Frankenheimer was THE EXTRAORDINARY SEAMAN; it’s hard to believe that the director of that stinker is the same man who brought us this brilliant and gripping political thriller. The story is simply amazing; it manages to combine a bizarre array of elements (such as games of solitaire, a woman’s garden club meeting on hydrangeas, a man jumping in the lake in Central Park, a dysfunctional (and possibly even incestuous) mother-son relationship, a faked hit-and-run accident, a snake bite, McCarthy’s list of “known communists”, and a magician’s trick deck of cards) into a nail-biting story about an attempted coup by communists to take over the United States. It takes a while before all the various elements start to come together, but the movie is fascinating every step of the way. The performances are all top notch, with Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury in particular very strong. The movie is full of great scenes; the nightmare sequences, the moment when we discover the identity of the American operative, and (my personal favorite) the scene where Sinatra’s character attempts to undo the brainwashing of Harvey’s character. The only flaw in the movie is that Janet Leigh’s character and the subplot about her romance with Sinatra’s character is unnecessary. The fantastic content of the movie includes the brainwashing techniques and the fact that the overall political plot puts the movie into marginal science fiction territory. The cast also features Henry Silva (who engages in an early martial arts fight with Sinatra), James Gregory (as a drunken senator partially modeled off of Joe McCarthy), John McGiver (as a Senator), Whit Bissell, and Reggie Nalder. And, of course, that’s Paul Frees on narration.