Satanis: The Devil’s Mass (1970)

aka Satanis
Article 2653 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-15-2008
Posting Date: 11-17-2008
Directed by Ray Laurent
Featuring Anton LaVey, Isaac Bonewits, Diane LaVey
Country: USA

This documentary takes a look at Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan.

One of the aspects of the same year’s documentary on witchcraft, WITCHCRAFT ’70, is that it also features footage from Anton LaVey’s black masses; the commentator in that movie couldn’t help but notice how lifeless and dull these ceremonies were. This documentary gives us ample Anton LaVey black mass footage to chew on, and… well, I have to agree with the commentator of the other film. You’d think that a ceremony that involves naked women dancing with snakes would hold the interest, but, sadly, this sequence is interminable and interminably dull. Part of the problem is that everyone looks bored; the worshipers, the naked women, even LaVey himself, though I can’t speak for the snake. It also doesn’t help that the perpetually moving camera during these scenes seems unable to focus on anything, or that some of costumes are (in a word) silly, especially that devil-mask with the horns. In between, we get interviews with LaVey, the worshipers, and neighbors. To me, very little of interest was said by anyone; the most interesting part of the movie is when it turns to the subject of LaVey’s pet lion. With its plentiful nudity, it was no doubt a sensation in its day. Still, for a dull documentary on a potentially interesting subject, I will give the movie one big point; it saves the most telling comment made in the various interviews for the last line of the movie, as this one line manages to put into perspective much of what we’ve seen. It’s best viewed as a curio.



Mysterious Island (1951)

Article 2652 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-10-2008
Posting Date: 11-16-2008
Directed by Spencer Bennet
Featuring Richard Crane, Marshall Reed, Karen Randle
Country: USA

Five prisoners of the Confederate Army during the Civil War escape in a balloon, but a hurricane carries them to a mysterious island. There they encounter a masked stranger, a wild man, pirates, a tribe of volcano people, and aliens from Mercury.

This isn’t the first serial I’ve seen based on a novel; THE GREEN ARCHER and DRUMS OF FU MANCHU both come to mind. It is, however, the first serial I’ve seen that’s based on a novel I’ve read. This gives me an opportunity to see how serials adapt novels. I was surprised that the serial more or less follows the novel closely… for the first fifteen minutes of episode one, that is. Then the volcano people (who wear nice uniforms and carry lightning-bolt shaped spears) and the space aliens from Mercury show up, and all resemblance to the original novel is gone. Even by serial standards the plot is lame; for ninety percent of the serial, most of the story seems to be a series of enemies turning to allies and back again; after a while, the only real mystery is who is going to end up an ally and who is going to end up an enemy at the end of the serial. All right, there IS the mystery of the identity of the mysterious masked stranger, but anyone remotely familiar with the story knows who that is. The rest is routine serial thrills, and I had more fun recognizing Richard “Rocky Jones” Crane as Captain Harding and Gene Roth as the head of the pirates. However, I do give the movie points for retaining the character of Neb, having him played by a black, and not turning him into a stereotype.


A Stolen Airship (1967)

aka Ukradena vzducholod
Article 2651 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-10-2008
Posting Date: 11-15-2008
Directed by Karel Zeman
Featuring Hanus Bor, Jan Cizek, Jan Malat
Country: Italy/Czechoslovakia

Five boys fly off in an airship and land on a desert island.

Karel Zeman is such a visually inventive director that it goes a long way to make up for the fact that my print of this movie is in the Czech language. Oh, sure, it’s subtitled, but the subtitles are in Chinese (I think). At any rate, much of the plot is hard to follow, though I do believe that Verne’s “The Mysterious Island” is at least one of the sources for the story, and I suspect there are more. It’s a dizzying array of animation, stylized special effects, adventure, fantasy and surreal slapstick humor. The movie is full of strange images, such as a welter of strange airships (including one that can be rowed and one that harbors a set of can-can dancers), spies with fake arms, and a shark stranded on the bottom of the ocean for having eaten a too-heavy torpedo. The “Nautilus” and Captain Nemo show up for a short sequence as well. It’s a lot of fun, but I hope someday to see either a dubbed or English-subtitled version to clarify some of the plot points.


Sole Survivor (1970)

Article 2650 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-8-2008
Posting Date: 11-14-2008
Directed by Paul Stanley
Featuring Vince Edwards, Richard Basehart, William Shatner
Country: USA

The wreckage of a military plane lost for seventeen years is found in the Libyan desert. The military investigates the wreckage, with the sole survivor of the plane’s last crew on site; he was rescued seven hundred miles away in the Mediterranean and is now a general. He claims that he bailed out with the rest of the crew, but, in truth, he deserted the plane against orders. However, the plane is haunted by the unseen ghosts of the former crew members who intend to prove to the investigators what really happened.

Though I’m not fond of TV-Movies in general, I’m always glad to find one with an interesting premise, an excellent script, and strong acting, and this has all three. There are a number of memorable scenes; my two favorites include the opening sequence in which the ghosts gather to play baseball, and the scene where an investigator approaches the ghosts who are standing in formation and saluting, looks toward them, lifts his hand and… adjusts his hat. The movie makes excellent use of the desert location, and Vince Edwards, Richard Basehart and William Shatner all give excellent performances. Oddly enough, it’s based on a true story. The ending is very memorable.


The Cold-Blooded Beast (1971)

aka Slaughter Hotel, La Bestia uccide a sangue freddo, Asylum Erotica
Article 2649 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-7-2008
Posting Date: 11-13-2008
Directed by Fernando Di Leo
Featuring Klaus Kinski, Margaret Lee, Rosalba Neri
Country: Italy

Women at a luxurious mental clinic are being murdered by a psycho.

Some mental clinic; it’s in a luxurious mansion laden with easily accessible offensive weapons (axe, crossbow, sword, etc), and even has a working iron maiden in the lobby for anyone to use. Of course, one of the patients is a nymphomaniac (who gets an inordinate amount of screen time), but there’s a lesbian nurse and her favorite patient as well, and a woman with sudden homicidal cravings, too. The movie tries to be stylish, but since every scene goes on too long (especially the scenes in which it tries to establish mood and suspense) it just becomes dull. If there’s a real plot here, it’s given short shrift so they can have the requisite scenes of sex and nudity. I wouldn’t doubt that there’s probably a subtext to all of this, but I find little more here than a compendium of its own excesses. It comes across like a cross between DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT, any given slasher film, and a foreign soft-core porno movie.


El hombre sin rostro (1950)

aka Man Without a Face
Article 2648 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-6-2008
Posting Date: 11-12-2008
Directed by Juan Bustillo Oro
Featuring Arturo de Cordova, Carmen Molina, Miguel Angel Ferriz
Country: Mexico

A detective is obsessed with catching a serial killer who goes after women. He has nightmarish dreams about the killer.

This movie opens in a strange dream-like world. The detective sits on a bench and watches a funeral procession going by with several coffins. His mother appears to him and begins talking. His attention is directed to a shadowy figure walking under some lampposts. The detective empties his gun into the figure, who, rather than falling, merely stops in his tracks. The detective attempts to look at the figure’s face, and finds that his face is blank…

This is the incredibly striking beginning of this movie, and it made me wish intensely that I was watching a version of it that had subtitles; my copy is in Spanish, and much of the detail of the movie is buried in the dialogue. I was only able to figure out that the main character was a detective by reading another plot description; I wish I’d known it at the outset, because it would have helped quite a bit in understanding what was going on; as it was, I made an assumption I don’t think I would have made had I known this fact. That’s one of the perils in watching movies in languages that you don’t understand. Nevertheless, I suspect that this is a great film; certainly, the eerie dream sequences are wonderful. The box in which I received the movie said it showed a certain resemblance to PSYCHO, though I also found it reminding me of the Canadian thriller THE MASK. At any rate, this is another one of those Mexican horror movies that convinced me that they made some truly excellent ones over the years, and I only hope a subtitled edition of this one shows up in the near future.


Sinfonia per due spia (1965)

aka Serenade for Two Spies, Serenade fur zwei Spione, Sympathy for Two Spies
Article 2647 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-5-2008
Posting Date: 11-11-2008
Directed by Michael Pfleghar
Featuring Hellmut Lange, Tony Kendall, Barbara Lass
Country: West Germany/Italy

A spy attempts to get his hands on a laser device…

…or so the plot descriptions I’ve found seem to tell me. I couldn’t make heads of tales out of this one, but then, I watched it with the worst possible print. Apparently, the English language version is lost, so I watched it on a bootleg DVD in unsubtitled Italian with faded color, horrible pan-and-scan cropping, and a running time that is only slightly more than half of the length of the movie on IMDB (they say 87 minutes, my copy runs 45 minutes). Under these circumstances, I’d be surprised if it made sense. Apparently, it’s a comedy, but it’s hard to tell. It takes place in the United States, it has a soundtrack that sounds as if it were more appropriate for a cheesy travelogue than a spy movie, and it features what may be the most jaw-droppingly unconvincing underwater sequence in cinema history. Beyond that, the movie is a question mark.