The Dracula Saga (1972)

THE DRACULA SAGA (1972)
aka La Saga de los Dracula
Article 2857 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-4-2009
Posting Date: 6-9-2009
Directed by Leon Klimovsky
Featuring Tina Sainz, Tony Isbert, Helga Line
Country: Spain

A pregnant woman arrives with her husband to the estate of her family. The husband is unaware that the woman he has married is the granddaughter of Dracula, who has been sent abroad to bring new life to a bloodline damaged by inbreeding.

I like movies that take an offbeat look at certain horror standards, and this cross between ROSEMARY’S BABY and a vampire movie fits the bill. It doesn’t quite work, though, and I think one reason is I’m never quite sure to what extent the granddaughter is aware of her lineage, and the ambiguity becomes a little maddening; at one point, I was wondering if I was getting the plot wrong and that the husband was Dracula’s grandson, because he seems to take everything that happens in stride. The movie is full of odd touches; the woman has a nightmare where she sees a monster with the face of a bat, and one of the most startling scenes in the movie happens when we discover that the woman’s unborn child is not the only descendant of Dracula who may have a claim to his throne. The movie is also surprisingly well dubbed into English, and most of the music is from Bach. The movie is probably at its weakest when it occasionally strays into a more conventional story (with suspicious villagers and the like). Still, for anyone who wants to see an unusual take on the Dracula legend, this one is worth checking out.

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The Man from Yesterday (1949)

THE MAN FROM YESTERDAY (1949)
Article 2856 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-3-2009
Posting Date: 6-8-2009
Directed by Oswald Mitchell
Featuring John Stuart, Henry Oscar, Gwyneth Vaughan
Country: UK

The head of an English country estate invites an old friend from India to stay with him and his family for a few weeks. The friend, who claims to be an advocate of spiritualism, exudes a baleful influence over the family. Could he be digging up a skeleton in the family closet?

Henry Oscar gives a strong performance as the odd friend from India, and he has one of those faces that is fairly brimming with character. He was the force that held my interest in this movie; I wasn’t sure if he was a force for good or a force for evil, and the movie remains purposefully vague about the extent of the man’s powers (for one thing, a seance that is central to the plot is only talked about, not shown). Unfortunately, there’s the rest of the movie to reckon with; the script has some weak points, the direction is stodgy, the revelations (when they come) are disappointing, and the movie has a twist ending that will have you reaching for a rubber brick to throw at your TV set. Furthermore, Gwyneth Vaughan gives one of those mannered, snippy performances that makes her character incredibly unlikable, and she’s supposed to be the love interest. The uneven script is by John Gilling, who certainly has an interesting track record as a writer; he’s given us THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS and THE GORGON on the plus side, and TROG and THE MUMMY’S SHROUD on the other. All in all, this one was definitely a mixed bag, but, given it’s been on my hunt list for nearly seven years and only manifested itself recently, I’m glad to have seen it.

Road to Rio (1947)

ROAD TO RIO (1947)
Article 2855 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-2-2009
Posting Date: 6-7-2009
Directed by Norman Z. McLeod
Featuring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour
Country: USA

Two vaudevillians stow away on a boat to Brazil, where they encounter a woman who is being forced into a marriage by a greedy female schemer.

It looks as if I’m going to be covering six of the seven Road movies for this series (the only omission – ROAD TO SINGAPORE), but I personally am under the impression that the genre limits are being stretched a bit too far on some of these; from what I’ve heard, only ROAD TO HONG KONG (which I haven’t seen) really makes sufficient use of fantastic elements. Here the main fantastic element is the use of hypnotism, mainly by the female villain to keep her ward under her control. This is supposed to be one of the better Road movies, but I’m disappointed; the less plot there is, the more I like them, and this is one which actually seems to have a story. I do like the in-jokes (and wish there were more of them), but, for the most part, I think the side performances steal the movie. Gale Sondergaard is always great as a villainess, and the musicians Hope and Crosby hook up with (The Wiere Brothers) steal the movie every time they appear. Tor Johnson appears as a strong man who intimidates Hope into doing a dangerous bicycle-on-a-high-wire stunt, Charles Middleton has a cameo as a farmer, the Andrews Sisters do a song with Crosby, and Jerry Colonna rides to a belated rescue.

L’auberge rouge (1951)

L’AUBERGE ROUGE (1951)
aka The Red Inn
Article 2854 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-1-2009
Posting Date: 6-6-2009
Directed by Claude Autant-Lara
Featuring Fernandel, Francoise Rosay, Marie-Claire Olivia
Country: France

A monk stays overnight at a remote inn with a variety of travelers. He hears a confession in which he discovers that the managers of the inn have been robbing and killing their guests. He finds himself in a dilemma; how can he prevent the murder of his fellow travelers without breaking his vows that forbid him to reveal information he has learned during a confession?

For the second day in a row I find myself watching a movie where people have gotten into the habit of murdering and robbing others, and yesterday’s movie (ONIBABA) would have been borderline horror (as this one is) even without the supernatural elements on these grounds alone, as this type of behavior puts us into serial killer territory. There are profound differences, of course; yesterday’s movie was a harrowing drama, and today’s is a satirical black comedy. Unfortunately, I don’t have the benefit of English subtitles to help me along with this one, and I was only able to piece together certain plot elements with the help of descriptions elsewhere. It looks quite entertaining; plot elements include an organ-grinder’s monkey on the loose, a clever hiding place for a corpse, a marriage ceremony intended to delay the murder of several people, and a pivotal snowball fight. The movie supposedly has an anticlerical message, though without the dialogue to help me, I’m not sure what it is, though I wouldn’t doubt that an ironic ending plays into it. Even watched this way, the movie has its moments, but I’m really looking forward to seeing a movie in English again in the near future.

Onibaba (1964)

ONIBABA (1964)
Article 2853 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-28-2009
Posting Date: 6-5-2009
Directed by Kaneto Shindo
Featuring Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei Sato
Country: Japan

An old woman and her daughter-in-law survive during the wars by killing stray samurai warriors, disposing of their bodies in a hole, and selling their equipment for food. When her daughter-in-law discovers that her husband has died in the wars, she falls in love with the local man who brought the news who has returned from the wars and is now hiding to avoid being sent back to fight. The old woman hatches a scheme to keep her daughter-in-law from being taken from her by using a demon mask taken from one of the warriors.

If the fantastic content in this movie were boiled down to its essence, it could have made a nifty “Twilight Zone” episode. When I make a comment like this, it’s usually my way of saying that a movie has stretched its content too thin, but that is not the case here at all. In this one, the story is effectively fleshed out, and even though the masked samurai does not appear until about two-thirds of the way through the movie, we are given plenty of meat to chew on before then. It’s an exploration of war and its effects, and how an extreme situation can nullify normal morality; though the murder and robbery of lost samurais may seem like an awful way to make a living, if one looks at the actions in the context of the situation (a seemingly unending war that has depopulated the land and depleted food supplies for all), one would be hard pressed to find another way for these characters to survive. One is left wondering at one point a character makes the transition from being a human being to becoming a demon, and the question as to whether the old woman has actually made that transition is a fascinating one; it’s significant that the last line of the movie is her claiming that she’s a human being. Even though the fantastic content that makes this a horror movie doesn’t manifest itself until well into the movie, the movie has built up a great amount of dread already by that time; all the action takes place in a field of reeds that towers over the heads of the human occupants, and one can easily feel the fear of never knowing how close one’s enemies are while still being unseen by you. This is also one of the first Japanese movies to feature nudity and sex, and there’s quite a bit here. This one is highly recommended.

Museo del horror (1964)

MUSEO DEL HORROR (1964)
aka Museum of Horror
Article 2852 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-27-2009
Posting Date: 6-4-2009
Directed by Rafael Baledon
Featuring Julio Aleman, Patricia Conde, Joaquin Cordero
Country: Mexico

Someone is killing women and covering them with wax. Grave robbers are also on the loose. People are also being killed by poison darts with curare. Who is the culprit?

Sometimes I rise to the challenge of enjoying a movie in its native language without the benefit of subtitles or English dubbing, and sometimes it just seems a bore to even try. I’m afraid this one falls into the latter category. It should be easy to follow, given that it’s largely a clone of HOUSE OF WAX, but there are other elements here not from the movie (grave robbers, a room of decaying corpses, the curare darts, etc.), and not only was I never able to quite figure out how they all fit into the story, I never quite worked up the ambition to really put my mind to it because of the predictability of the basic plot. It has some striking scenes; a woman has a dream of the dead coming to life that is quite effective, and there’s a scene of a policeman being buried alive, his hands reaching through the dirt, that is very striking. It’s good it has these scenes, because it omits the most striking scene from its source movie; there’s no unmasking sequence, in short. I’m afraid this one left me cold, but it also might just have been a bad day for it. Perhaps I’ll give it a try another time…

Solaris (1972)

SOLARIS (1972)
aka Solyaris
Article 2851 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-26-2009
Posting Date: 6-3-2009
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
Featuring Natalya Bondarchuk, Donatas Banionis, Jun Jarvet
Country: Soviet Union

A psychologist is sent to a space station situated near the planet of Solaris, in which a sentient ocean is being studied. He is supposed to report on the strange phenomena surrounding the mission and to give an analysis as to whether the project is to be abandoned. On his arrival, he finds that the ocean is able to project manifestations of the memories of the inhabitants of the station, and encounters his wife, who committed suicide ten years ago.

I’ve heard this ambitious Russian science fiction epic was a classic; I’ve also heard it’s a bore. It is a little bit of the latter; there’s a long driving sequence during the first half of the movie that I really think could have used a little pruning. Nonetheless, I found it a worthy and satisfying (if difficult) movie. It’s one of those that you really have to sit through to the end; for most of the middle of the movie, I didn’t really know how I was feeling about it or what I would have to say about it, but the wind-up of the story somehow made it feel like it was all coming together for me. I won’t pretend to understand it all in its entirety, but it is one I foresee that I’ll be revisiting in the future to dig in deeper, and I always admire a movie that attempts to handle the difficult themes that the best of literary science fiction often deals with. I’d also like to read the novel as well; I’ve read some of the works of Stanislaw Lem, and I like what I’ve found, but I haven’t read this one yet. In short, this is a movie I’d recommend, but with the warning that it requires a certain degree of patience and a compassion for art films.