I Cannibali (1970)

aka The Year of the Cannibal
Article 2847 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-22-2009
Posting Date: 5-30-2009
Directed by Liliana Cavani
Featuring Pierre Clementi, Britt Ekland, Tomas Milian
Country: Italy

During World War III, the tyrannical government in Milan passes a law making it a crime to bury the bodies of dead insurgents lying in the streets. A woman defies the law with the help of a Christ-like figure she meets.

Hey, it’s an Italian movie with the word “cannibal” in the title; it must be an Italian cannibal movie, right? I pity anyone who goes into this one with that hope; they will emerge frustrated and disappointed. “Cannibal” must be a metaphorical term; this is an art movie, a political allegory modeled off of the story of Antigone. At least you won’t feel critically pressured to like it; the movie was not a critical success, and its current rating of 4.5 on IMDB indicates that it’s not well loved; to some extent, I think the implausibility of the central concept (i.e. that any government would leave the streets littered with thousands of corpses and not worrying about the fact that this is a sanitary disaster in the making) is the problem here. I myself have to reserve judgment, since I’ve only seen the movie in Italian without subtitles, and even the plot description above is highly suspect, as I culled it from several sources and am not entirely sure it’s an accurate reflection of what happens in the movie. At this point, all I can say is I found some of the scenes obvious, and others bizarre. A working knowledge of the Antigone story is helpful.

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

Article 2846 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-21-2009
Posting Date: 5-29-2009
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Featuring Ingrid Pitt, George Cole, Kate O’Mara
Country: UK

A mysterious woman worms her way into households which have beautiful young women in them. When the women begin turning up dead, it is believed that the vampiric Karnsteins, which were once believed to have been destroyed, have come back to plague the village.

After having read “English Gothic”, the history of the British horror movie, I’m not surprised that Hammer turned to nudity (which appears here for the first time in a Hammer horror) to spice up their offerings; since they lacked the financial wherewithal of their American counterparts, they needed to add cost-effective and marketable elements to their movies that the American filmmakers were reluctant to add to theirs. Furthermore, Ingrid Pitt certainly has the body for this type of thing, though I must admit I’m less impressed with her as an actress. At least they found a vehicle that effectively incorporates these exploitable elements into the story; the sex and lesbian overtones here are essential to the story rather than having been layered on without reason. Many of the performances are very good, with fourth-billed Peter Cushing doing a fine job as usual in a part that emphasizes his work with an ensemble; though he’s easily the biggest star here, he never steals focus from anyone. It’s a very good movie. Some of the scenes of the vampires walking in the misty cemetery are very eerie, and I like the way the movie works out the details by which Carmilla/Mircalla/Marcilla insinuates herself into the various families to gain access to their beautiful daughters. Hammer’s product was on a downhill slide at this point of time, but this one is still quite strong; it’s certainly superior to its immediate sequel, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE, though I can’t as of yet compare it to TWINS OF EVIL, the third movie in the Karnstein trilogy.

Revenge of the Zombies (1976)

Article 2845 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-21-2009
Posting Date: 5-28-2009
Directed by Meng Hua Ho
Featuring Lung Ti, Ni Tien, Lily Li
Country: Hong Kong/Indonesia/Singapore

Medical doctors begin to suspect that a series of baffling illnesses are the work of a warlock at loose in the city.

This is the first horror movie I’ve seen to hail from the Shaw Brothers in Hong Kong; I can’t quite count THE SEVEN BROTHERS MEET DRACULA, because that was at least half a Hammer movie. I’ve heard some of the Shaw Brothers movies can be pretty wild, and having seen this one, I can attest to that. It’s definitely not for the squeamish; the fact that my print is a little too dark to make out some of the details doesn’t change the fact that you know what you’re supposed to be seeing. Perhaps the best way to describe this movie is to give you a quick rundown of some of the more memorable images and concepts.

1) You see a crocodile killed and eviscerated.

2) You see an autopsy performed on a worm-eaten corpse in a grave.

3) The evil magician keeps himself young by drinking human milk.

4) The zombies are animated by having metal spikes driven into their skulls. They are destroyed by having those spikes removed.

5) Some of the zombies hop. I’ve heard that some of these movies feature hopping vampires, but I didn’t know they had hopping zombies as well.

6) A good magician comes to the aid of the doctor who is battling the evil magician. Unfortunately, the good magician is mortally wounded, and he passes his powers on to the doctor by giving him a magic amulet and telling him he has to eat the magician’s eyes.

The end result of this is an almost jaw-droppingly bizarre horror movie. It’s certainly not dull, and the story is fairly coherent, even if some of the heroes act with consummate stupidity at times; really, shouldn’t there be a better way of convincing the skeptical doctor that black magic exists other than putting themselves at the mercy of the evil warlock? At this point, I can’t really come up with a critical assessment of this one; I still can hardly take in what I’ve seen. Perhaps after I’ve seen a few more of these types of movies, I’ll have the ability to make a better assessment.

S.O.S. Invasion (1969)

S.O.S. INVASION (1969)
Article 2844 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-20-2009
Posting Date: 5-27-2009
Directed by Silvio F. Balbuena
Featuring Jack Taylor, Mara Cruz, Diana Sorel
Country: Spain

Earth is invaded by blonde female robots who raise the dead, or so they say.

Reportedly, this movie has some priceless hilarious dialogue in it. Since my print is in unsubtitled Spanish, I can’t confirm this. Nor can I really confirm the plot details listed above, except for the fact that there are lots of blonde women wandering about science-fiction-type hardware during several of the scenes. The Mediterranean locations and the beautiful women do add some visual enjoyment to the movie, but the plot is buried in the dialogue somewhere. All I can say is this, if there is an invasion going on (as the title seems to promise), then the laid-back acting and music, the dearth of action, and the lack of visual suspense make me suspect it’s not one the more urgent invasions on record. It does get a little exciting one minute before the end of the movie; at least it’s the first time that the characters really seem to act like something important is happening, but it only leads to one of those “The End?” endings. Ultimately, I have to withhold any real judgment on this one until I can view a subtitled or dubbed copy.

Jungle Jim in the Forbidden Land (1952)

Article 2843 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-18-2009
Posting Date: 5-26-2009
Directed by Lew Landers
Featuring Johnny Weissmuller, Angela Greene, Jean Willes
Country: USA

Jungle Jim joins forces with a female anthropologist to do battle with poachers intent on wiping out a herd of elephants located near the forbidden land of the giant people.

The first half of this movie is marred by muddled and tiresome exposition. It’s not until we get to meet a couple of captive giant people (the male looks like a tall relative of Universal’s Wolf Man, while the female looks like a tall version of Paula the Ape Woman) that the movie starts to get moving, and from that point on, it’s fairly entertaining in a low-budget “Jungle Jim” kind of way. The giant people add some of the spice to the movie, though their leopard voices are pretty unconvincing. I also couldn’t help noticing that Jungle Jim can be something of a jerk on occasion. Part of this is no doubt due to the fact that he’s somewhat inspired by the character of Tarzan, but he occasionally exhibits a juvenile petulance which, though forgivable in a man raised by apes and unused to civilization, is rather annoying in someone who isn’t. Tamba the chimp provides the ersatz Cheeta here. All in all, pretty standard for the series.

How Awful About Allan (1970)

Article 2842 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-17-2009
Posting Date: 5-25-2009
Directed by Curtis Harrington
Featuring Anthony Perkins, Julie Harris, Joan Hackett
Country: USA

A young man is struck blind as a result of the guilt he feels concerning a fire that caused the death of his father and the scarring of his sister’s face. When he is released from a mental hospital with his vision only partially restored, he goes to live with his sister. However, when a mysterious student boarder moves into the premises with them, he begins to feel that this new resident means to kill him.

Storywise, this movie is no great shakes; I was able to get the gist of what was really going on very early in the proceedings. Nevertheless, the movie works all right anyway for two reasons. One is the presence of Anthony Perkins as the partially-blind man; he is quite effective at projecting that paranoia and sense of persecution (which adds to the horror atmosphere that makes this one at least marginally genre) that is vital for this story to work. The other is that the movie makes good use of the character’s half-blindness by giving us a number of point-of-view shots from his perspective; we never get a good look at the boarder’s face, and during the scenes where he’s terrorized, we never see who is doing the terrorizing. These factors help the movie to work on an emotional basis, which is quite helpful when the story falters. The rest of the cast is quite solid as well. It’s not a great TV-Movie, but I thought it was effective enough.

The Golden Arrow (1962)

aka La Freccia d’oro
Article 2841 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-16-2009
Posting Date: 5-24-2009
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Featuring Tab Hunter, Rossana Podesta, Umberto Melnati
Country: Italy

A thief with royalty in his blood is able to perform a task that should have won him the hand of a sultan’s daughter. However, he becomes an outcast because of his calling, and finds himself wanted both by rival suitors and his own gang of thieves. Fortunately, he has three guardian angels who will help him in his quest to prove himself.

I’ve always felt that sword and sandal movies have a bit of an affinity with Arabian Nights movies, so it should be no surprise that one of them came out of Italy in the early sixties. It also got a much classier presentation in this country; it came to us via MGM, which made sure the dubbing was far superior than what we could get from a movie that came to us via AIP. Furthermore, the movie is well preserved; my copy is letterboxed and in beautiful Technicolor, which is better than most sword-and-sandal movies I’ve seen. Still, it’s a pretty tepid affair; it rehashes a goodly portion of the various versions of THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, but it’s a bit too juvenile for my tastes, and lacks the sense of magic that permeated those earlier movies. The presence of Tab Hunter as the hero only makes the movie that much fluffier and blander. It is interesting to see Antonio Margheriti working in a different mode here, and MGM even bills him as such, without using the Anthony Dawson nom de plume that was often used to try to hide the foreign origin of his movies. I find this less confusing than his science fiction films, but rather uncompelling, and not as much fun as it would like to be.

Francis in the Haunted House (1956)

Article 2840 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-15-2009
Posting Date: 5-23-2009
Directed by Charles Lamont
Featuring Mickey Rooney, Virginia Welles, James Flavin
Country: USA

Francis the talking mule tries to save his friend, David Prescott, from getting involved in a series of murders happening at the MacLeod estate. When Prescott becomes a suspect, Francis must solve the case to clear him.

This could be described as a departure for the Francis the Talking Mule series; Donold O’Connor departed from the series (to be replace by Mickey Rooney), Chill Wills (the voice of Francis) departed from the series (to be replaced by Paul Frees doing a Chill Wills impersonation), and the series itself would depart after this entry. Actually, to me it smacks somewhat of desperation; the haunted house story is a common entry in many series comedies, and the decision to rely on it here feels like a desire to revert to formula, or, to put it another way, a different formula than this series had used so far. After all, this series is a prime example of running a concept into the ground; any one movie of the series taken on its own has its good points, but taken in toto, one can see the dearth of creativity and imagination at work. Even this one gets most of its laughs by having people not believe Prescott when he tells of a talking mule, people fainting when they see the mule talk, the mule not talking in front of others when Prescott needs him to, etc. There’s a ghost of a knight on the loose in this one, but it’s a Scooby-Doo plot; after all, how can you expect people who buy the premise of a talking mule to accept the premise of a real ghost? Mickey Rooney really isn’t given a character to play with, and Paul Frees isn’t quite as good at the insults as Chill Wills was. The cast also features David Janssen as a police lieutenant, and Richard Deacon (from “The Dick Van Dyke Show”) as an attorney.

And, speaking of departures, this marks my departure from covering the Francis series – that is, until someone hits on the idea of a remake.

Fame and the Devil (1949)

Article 2839 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-14-2009
Posting Date: 5-22-2009
Directed by Mario Moncelli and Steno
Featuring Marcel Cerdan, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Mischa Auer
Country: Italy

A professor, hoping to win the heart of the woman he loves, ends up making a deal with the devil to have him take over the body of a celebrity.

Despite the presence of the devil rather than of an angel, this movie is basically a comic variation on HERE COMES MR. JORDAN. Some of the similarities are rather interesting, if inversions of the earlier movie; in JORDAN, our main character was initially a boxer, and in this one, the meek professor ends up inhabiting the body of a boxer at one point (played by real-life French boxer Marcel Cerdan). Also, he has a buddy who keeps running into him in his new forms; Carlo Acmpanini plays the equivalent to the James Gleason role. It’s all quite amusing, but it’s also rather predictable; about half way through the movie, I pretty much knew where it was going and had a strong inkling of what the final (overly-familiar) twist was going to be. Nevertheless, I still liked the movie, especially when I discovered the identity of the third celebrity he inhabits (which I won’t give away here). I saw the U.S. version, which is shorter than the original by ten minutes, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the parts that got the axe had some political significance; the woman the professor loves works for an international diplomat (played very enjoyably by Mischa Auer). This one is minor, but fun.

Dick Tracy’s Dilemma (1947)

Article 2838 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-13-2009
Posting Date: 5-21-2009
Directed by John Rawlins
Featuring Ralph Byrd, Lyle Latell, Kay Christopher
Country: USA

Dick Tracy investigates a fur theft. He discovers that one of the people involved is a hulking brute with a hook for a hand.

There’s not really much new here, but since this is a series I like, that’s all right by me. The horror element is provided by this movie’s “ugly face”, a hulking brute with a limp, a hook hand, and an affection for cats; he’s known as “The Claw”. Ian Keith steals the movie once again as the aging actor Vitamin Flintheart. The violence is once again a bit nastier than you might expect from a B movie. And, also once again, the character names occasional acknowledge the comic roots of the series. With this review, I have not completed the whole Dick Tracy series from the forties.