Amazing World of Ghosts (1978)

AMAZING WORLD OF GHOSTS (1978)
Article 2521 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-28-2008
Posting Date: 7-7-2008
Directed by Wheeler Dixon
Narrated by Sidney Paul
Country: USA

Do you believe in ghosts? They’re out to scare us! They may come from outer space! See all mediums with ectoplasm coming out of their mouths – this doesn’t happen very often, but we have about a thousand pictures of it happening. Jupiter’s a big planet. What about Nessie, the Loch Ness monster? People also look for the Abominable Snowman, aka Bigfoot. This hypnotized guy can’t hear the drum music in the background! Because of the Gold Rush, many Ghost Towns were created. We’re all going to be invaded! Poltergeists throw things around and scare people. I’ll shut up now; play some electronic music to fill in the gap…

So far, I’ve seen several documentaries from the seventies about paranormal occurrences and/or extraterrestrial visitations. This one is the worst by far. Combine random stock footage with free-floating paranoia, stream of consciousness rambling and a short attention span and you end up with one of the most pointless explorations of… well, ostensibly it’s about ghosts, but with the way this thing wanders, who can tell? There are no interviews; it’s just Sidney Paul talking and the musicians filling in the gaps while photos and stock footage pass by. I’d say it’s unconvincing, except that for it to be unconvincing, it would have to at least approach coherent, and such is not the case. Really, I’m surprised it didn’t try to mix the Kennedy assassination in as well. One of my “favorite” moments; we see footage of a primitive town and its residents while the narrator intones about the town being infested by ghosts; we don’t see any, but we see plenty of goats, so maybe he was confused. Another: we see modern techniques for digging gold out of mountains, which proves that space aliens have vast underground cities on other planets just waiting for the chance to pounce on us all.

 

The Green Archer (1940)

THE GREEN ARCHER (1940)
Serial
Article 2520 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-27-2008
Posting Date: 7-6-2008
Directed by James W. Horne
Featuring Victor Jory, Iris Meredith, James Craven
Country: USA

Evil Abel Bellamy has framed and murdered his brother in order to get possession of a castle. He then uses the castle as a secret hideout to perform his criminal activities. However, insurance investigator Spike Holland is on hand to try to catch him. Abel Bellamy has one of his henchman disguise himself as the legendary Green Archer to help him with his plans. However, the real Green Archer shows up, and begins helping Spike Holland to catch the criminals.

For my money, this is one of the most enjoyable serials I’ve ever seen. The story is based on an Edgar Wallace novel, both the hero and villain are fun, it keeps the bail-out cliffhangers to a minimum (though it does have its own default cliffhanger resolution that you can set your clock by), and the secondary characters are well-defined. It also has a good sense of humor, and has one running gag in which one of the henchmen keeps getting confused between the real Green Archer and the bogus Green Archer, and keeps pummeling one of his own men. The mystery of the identity of the Green Archer is a no-brainer; despite the serial’s constant attempts to throw suspicion on a side character, I knew who he was by the end of episode one, and I saw nothing to contradict it; however, given that the Green Archer is exactly who he should be dramatically, this is no problem with me. Throw in some dumb cops, and plot elements that involve fountain pens and tiddlywinks, and you have one of the best of the genre. The Green Archer (who is supposed to be a ghost) adds some of the fantastic element, though there are some obligatory marginal science fiction elements as well.

 

Samson and the Mighty Challenge (1964)

SAMSON AND THE MIGHTY CHALLENGE (1964)
aka Ercole, Sansone, Maciste e Ursus gli invincibili
Article 2519 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-26-2008
Posting Date: 7-5-2008
Directed by Giorgio Capitani
Featuring Sergio Ciani, Howard Ross, Nadir Moretti
Country: Spain, Italy, France

Hercules wishes to marry Omphale, the daughter of the Queen of Lydia. However, the daughter, who is in love with a man from one of the mountain tribes, does not wish to marry Hercules. A plot is hatched to convince Hercules that he can only marry Omphale if he defeats the mightiest man on Earth, Samson.

The opening scene of this movie has Zeus hurling thunderbolts at Hercules to warn him that he has two paths to choose from – virtue and pleasure. To Zeus’s disappointment, Hercules chooses pleasure, as it leads to the land of Lydia, which is reported to be full of beautiful women. Zeus tells him not call on him for help if he should get into trouble, and Hercules assures him that he will not need his father’s help with the women. This singularly unheroic Hercules is your first clue that this is not your ordinary sword-and-sandal flick (the first clue was that the theme over the titles is is decidedly eccentric). Yes, what we have here is that rarity; this movie, like COLOSSUS AND THE AMAZONS and HERCULES VS MACISTE IN THE VALE OF WOE, is a sword-and-sandal comedy. Hercules is a lady-killer who still fails to impress the princess even after saving her life and making sure she knows he’s a demigod. Samson is a henpecked husband, married to a jealous Delilah; when he decides to go off to Lydia without her, you won’t be surprised by her course of action. Ursus is an ill-tempered bully who beats up on everyone and won’t pay for his meals. That leaves Maciste as the only remotely heroic muscleman here, and he’s such a goody-two-shoes he not only saves a beleaguered family from Ursus, but he helps repair all their wrecked furniture as well. Throw in an evil queen that will remind you of Madeline Khan and a mischievous dwarf who pretends to be the voice of Zeus, and you have a fairly amusing spoof of the whole sword-and-sandal genre. It’s sitting with an extremely low rating on IMDB, but I’ll openly admit that I was highly entertained by this one, and, as far as comedies go, it’s certainly a lot better than the VALE OF WOE movie.

 

The Mad Executioners (1963)

THE MAD EXECUTIONERS (1963)
aka Der Henker von London
Article 2518 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-25-2008
Posting Date: 7-4-2008
Directed by Edwin Zbonek
Featuring Hansfjorg Felmy, Maria Perschy, Dieter Borsche
Country: Germany

A secret society captures, tries, and executes criminals who have somehow managed to evade punishment by the law. A Scotland Yard inspector is on the case. He also must contend with a serial killer who decapitates his female victims.

For those interested in trying out the German Edgar Wallace thrillers of the early sixties but aren’t sure where to start, this is a good one to begin with. I don’t quite rank it with the best ones, but it’s one of the most straightforward and least confusing of the bunch, and it manages to keep the comic relief down to a minimum. Even the subplot about the serial killer weaves nicely into the main plot, and it’s this subplot that adds a goodly portion of the fantastic content to the story, with both the horror element of a serial killer and a science fiction element that manifests itself when you understand what the serial killer is trying to accomplish. Granted, the group of hooded executioners adds its own horror element as well. There are some very nice moments in this one, including a sequence where we witness two mock trials concurrently, and the moment where we discover how the executioners are able to get the noose from a locked safe. Again, it’s not the best of the genre, but it’s perhaps the most accessible.

 

The Christmas that Almost Wasn’t (1966)

THE CHRISTMAS THAT ALMOST WASN’T (1966)
Article 2517 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-24-2008
Posting Date: 7-3-2008
Directed by Rossano Brazzi
Featuring Rossano Brazzi, Paul Tripp, Mischa Auer
Country: Italy/USA

Santa Claus is in peril of being unable to deliver presents for Christmas when a bitter man who hates children buys the land on which Santa’s shop is located, and demands that Santa pay the rent by Christmas Eve or have all of his toys seized. Santa enlists the aid of a lawyer, and they try to find a way to pay the rent.

I was unable to watch this whole movie in a single sitting due to my schedule, and I had to stop about two-thirds of the way through the movie. Had I written my review at that point, I would have said that even if I forgave the movie some of its more glaring flaws (such as the fact that the songs aren’t particularly strong), there was one flaw I couldn’t overlook, and that was that the movie was entirely too glum; despite a few moments of good humor and Christmas spirit, the perpetual sight of a depressed and frustrated Santa Claus just started to get to me. I didn’t expect much when I got back to watching it, but it was at this point that the movie started hitting all the right Christmas buttons; there was something truly gratifying at the way the problem is solved, and the events and revelations that lead up to the redemption of the villain are quite moving in their way. Overall, it’s kind of a variation on HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS with dollops of A CHRISTMAS CAROL and MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET in the mix. The songs are still weak, and it remains too glum for most of its running time, but the villain is fun, and his butler (played by John Karlsen) almost steals the movie with his face alone. It’s also fun to see Mischa Auer in one of his last film roles as the bookkeeper of the elves. Director/star Rossano Brazzi gained fame as the star of SOUTH PACIFIC, but would eventually descend to appearing in movies like FRANKENSTEIN’S CASTLE OF FREAKS. The movie is uneven, and I can equally understand why someone might dislike the movie while another would consider it a classic.

 

Charlotte’s Web (1973)

CHARLOTTE’S WEB (1973)
Article 2516 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-23-2008
Posting Date: 7-2-2008
Directed by Charles A. Nichols and Iwao Takamoto
Featuring the voices of Debbie Reynolds, Paul Lynde, Henry Gibson
Country: USA

A piglet who is the runt of the litter is saved by a young girl from being killed, who then raises the piglet by hand. The pig is sold to another farmer. The pig befriends a spider, who hatches a plot to keep the pig from being slaughtered.

I’ve not read the classic children’s book by E.B. White on which this movie is based, but if I were to judge the book based on this animated movie version of it, I would have no desire to read it. Fortunately, my wife has read the book, and she assures me that this movie does not do it justice, choosing to emphasize only the sentimental and schmaltzy aspects of the story. I’m highly resistant to the whimsy of this movie, but the movie could have overcome my resistance had the animation or the songs been inspired. Alas, the animation is only adequate, and the songs are utterly forgettable. About the only inspired touch to the movie is casting Paul Lynde as the voice of Templeton the rat, and even that character wears thin very quickly. I doubt I’ll be revisiting this one any time soon; I’d sooner read the book first, so I’d have more of an idea of what this movie is missing.

 

The Chairman (1969)

THE CHAIRMAN (1969)
Article 2515 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-22-2008
Posting Date: 7-1-2008
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Featuring Gregory Peck, Anne Heywood, Arthur Hill
Country: UK/USA

When Red China discovers an enzyme that can allow food to be grown in any area regardless of climate, the Americans, British and Russians combine forces to get the information. To that end, they hire a Nobel-winning scientist to infiltrate China and discover the enzyme. They plant a transmitter in his head so that he can keep in touch, but, unbeknownst to the scientist, the transmitter also contains a bomb that can be used if the scientist is caught.

The enzyme is the Gizmo Maguffin in this spy thriller, though the technology used to keep the scientist in touch with the military also pushes the movie into science fiction as well. It’s an interesting if uneven movie; the plot itself has its fair share of cliches, but the scenes inside China do give the viewer a strong sense that he has been transported to another culture, and this adds a lot to the atmosphere of the movie. The movie is well-directed and well-acted, with the oriental roles played by orientals, including Keye Luke and Burt Kwouk. The climax of the movie doesn’t quite achieve the pitch of edge-of-your-seat suspense that it aspires to, but I really like the scene where the scientist meets the Chairman and they discuss political viewpoints while playing ping-pong. I vaguely remember when this one was released to theaters, but I don’t recall it being a big success.

 

Blood Orgy of the She Devils (1972)

BLOOD ORGY OF THE SHE DEVILS (1972)
Article 2514 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-21-2008
Posting Date: 6-30-2008
Directed by Ted V. Mikels
Featuring Lila Zaborin, Victor Izay, Tom Pace
Country: USA

Mara is a witch who practices black magic and worships Satan. She does her thing until some white magicians decide to stop her.

Nice title, huh? Well, if you’re the sort of person who picked this one up on the strength of the title, I suggest you turn the DVD package over, take note of the PG rating, and then ask yourself just how bloodily orgiastic these she-devils are going to get. Still, you can’t blame them for giving it this title; calling it TALKY SNOOZEFEST OF THE SHE-DEVILS would have kept the audience away in droves. Actually, it’s not quite as bad as that, but it ain’t good. If the above plot description seems lame, then bear in mind that’s pretty much a good reflection of how I find the plot in this one. The major annoyance is Lila Zaborin’s performance; she never says her lines when she can DECLAIM them. The movie does try to be horrific on occasion, but it relies too much on women screeching and witch cliches (torture, a burning, a stoning) to have much impact. The movie does develop a hint of a story at one point when the witch is hired to perform a political assassination, but the plot is resolved too quickly and ultimately adds nothing more than running time to the film. The final battle between good and evil will stay with you almost until the credits roll. A sense of humor would have really helped here, but there is none. Mikel’s other horror movies aren’t classics, but they’re better than this one.

 

Strange Impersonation (1946)

STRANGE IMPERSONATION (1946)
Article 2513 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-20-2008
Posting Date: 6-29-2008
Directed by Anthony Mann
Featuring Brenda Marshall, William Gargan, Hillary Brooke
Country: USA

A woman scientist is disfigured from an explosion caused by a jealous co-worker, who schemes to steal the man she loves from her. When the female scientist is mistakenly believed to be dead, she takes on the identity of the woman who actually died, and gets plastic surgery to fix her face. She then sets out to get the man she loves back.

Sometimes an overfamiliarity with film conventions can hoodwink your enjoyment of a movie. About fifteen minutes into this movie a certain screen convention occurs to indicate a certain thing has happened, and because I recognized the convention for what it was, I knew how the movie was going to end. Yes, I’m begin vague about the convention, but that’s because I don’t want to give it away for someone who might not have seen the movie and wants to give it a chance. In some ways, knowing how it was going to end didn’t ruin things for me; if anything, it did help me to not be bothered by the fact that the story was a bit far-fetched. It was well directed by Anthony Mann, who I know primarily from having directed some very interesting westerns during the fifties. It also has a nice noirish atmosphere at times, and ultimately my biggest problem with the movie is it occasionally hits a false, clunky note in the dialogue. The movie also features H.B. Warner and Lyle Talbot, but, for me, the most interesting credit was for producer William Wilder, who is better know to me as W. Lee Wilder, the director of several low-budget science fiction movies from the fifties. The fantastic content is light here; there may be a slight nudge into science fiction courtesy of the experiments with anaesthetics, and there is a touch of horror to the plot element of the disfigured face.

 

Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill (1966)

KISS KISS, KILL KILL (1966)
aka Kommissar X – Jagd auf Unbekannt
Article 2512 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-19-2008
Posting Date: 6-28-2008
Directed by Gianfranco Parolini
Featuring Tony Kendall, Brad Harris, Maria Perschy
Country: West Germany, Italy, Yugoslavia

Jo Walker and Captain Tom Rowland investigate a series of deaths that were part of a business deal; apparently, one of the four partners in the deal wants the money all to himself. They discover that the murderer is planning on gathering the largest amount of gold in the world.

This is another of the European James Bond rip-offs that were common during the late sixties, and, for my money, it’s one of the better ones. In fact, it was popular enough that it spawned a series of its own; there were at least six “Kommissar X” sequels with Brad Kendall in the role. It has a good sense of humor to add to the proceedings, and I really like the relationship between Jo Walker and his boss (played by Brad Harris, who popped up in a few sword-and-sandal movies as well as the 1959 LI’L ABNER). The movie also has a good villain in the character of an industrialist who manages to keep one step ahead of Jo Walker for most of the movie. No, those expecting Bond-type thrills will be a little disappointed, but those with a tolerance for these low-budget rip-offs will find this one quite entertaining.