The Gold Ghost (1934)

Article 2904 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-2-2009
Posting Date: 7-26-2009
Directed by Buster Keaton and Charles Lamont
Featuring Buster Keaton, Warren Hymer, Dorothy Dix
Country: USA

A young socialite named Wally decides he wants to be alone, so he moves into a ghost town and makes himself sheriff. However, when gold is rediscovered in the area, he soon finds himself the sheriff of a bustling town.

I’m familiar with Buster Keaton’s years as a great silent comedian, and I’m also familiar with his appearances in TV and movies during the fifties and sixties, when he underwent a bit of a career revival. However, his early talkie career was a vast unexplored area to me. So I’m glad for the opportunity to check out one of his talkie shorts. It’s obvious that Keaton still felt more at home with visual and slapstick humor; he keeps the talking to a minimum, and the best moments here are ones that could have worked just as well during the silent era. My favorite moment has him playing cards with one of the dustiest decks ever found in a movie. It’s far from a great short, but it has its moments, and I’m glad I saw it. The fantastic content can be found in a short sequence where he encounters a gang of ghosts (possibly imaginary) and disposes of them with his gun.

Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971)

Article 2903 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-19-2009
Posting Date: 7-25-2009
Directed by Seth Holt and Michael Carreras
Featuring Andrew Keir, Valerio Leon, James Villiers
Country: UK

An Egyptologist, who once headed a mysterious expedition into the tomb of Queen Tera, gives his daughter a ring found on the severed hand of the queen. It is meant to protect her from the curse of the evil Queen, who looks just like her. However, the queen will not be denied…

On the plus side, I really like that Hammer decided not to go the usual mummy route for this exercise in Egyptian horror; in fact, there’s really no mummy to speak of (and the Queen’s body is too well-preserved to really count). There are also some effective and eerie moments in the movie. However, there are also a fair amount of clumsy ones, the characters aren’t really developed enough to make their motivations clear, and I came out of this one more than a little unsatisfied. Granted, the production was plagued with problems of its own; its original star (Peter Cushing) had to back out due to his wife’s illness, and the director died before the production was complete, necessitating a replacement for the last few days of shooting. There’s some wonderfully subtle moments here, but there’s also some strident and forced ones as well. I do like the nod to the director of the original DRACULA in the boyfriend’s name, though. I just wish this movie worked better overall.

Birds Do It (1966)

BIRDS DO IT (1966)
Article 2902 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-18-2009
Posting Date: 7-24-2009
Directed by Andrew Marton
Featuring Soupy Sales, Tab Hunter, Arthur O’Connell
Country: USA

A janitor at a military/scientific installation accidentally gets trapped inside a machine that pumps him full of ions. This gives him the ability to fly and makes him irresistible to the opposite sex.

Imagine a cross between a Disney shopping cart movie and a Jerry Lewis movie. Now imagine that it’s about the quality of THE FAT SPY or THE NASTY RABBIT. That should give you a sense of what this dreadful comedy is like. It’s one of those movies that tries to be a laugh riot for every second of its running time, but none of the jokes hit and all that’s left is a sense of desperation. Of the three leads listed above, it’s Tab Hunter that comes off best, but that may be because he’s the only one who doesn’t come across as desperate. On the plus side, I will take my hat off to the special effects crew and the chimp (the former because they do a decent job and the latter because I like chimps). As for the rest… really, you’re better off with IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD. Just one thing – please, someone reassure me that that wasn’t Groucho Marx in a cameo!

Big Foot Man or Beast (1972)

Article 2901 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-17-2009
Posting Date: 7-23-2009
Directed by Lawrence Crowley
Featuring Rene Dahinden, John Green, Grover Krantz
Country: USA

This is a documentary about the search for Bigfoot.

The seventies was the decade of documentaries about mysterious phenomena, most of which are tiresome and pretty lame (I’m looking at you, Sunn Classics). This one is from American National Enterprises, and it’s one of the better ones out there; it’s more matter-of-fact and less sensationalistic, and at times it shows a nice attention to detail that helps with the verisimilitude. I’m mostly a skeptic where such things are concerned, but I also have a deep streak of longing on the matter; as a monster lover, I would love it if creatures like Bigfoot really existed. This movie, like THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK, taps into that feeling. The first half hour of the movie concentrates on interviews with various people who claim to have encountered Bigfoot and features interviews of various experts. One of the more offbeat of the latter is with Janos Prohaska, who made a career as a stunt man and animal imitator which included a few of the monsters on “Star Trek”; he is consulted on his opinion of the possibility of whether the creature caught in some famous film footage is actually a man in a monster costume. The rest of the movie covers an expedition headed by Robert W. Morgan to track down the creature and get incontrovertible proof of its existence. With hindsight, we know from the beginning that this proof was not found (otherwise we’d now have proof and this movie would probably be famous), and, if you allow yourself to get caught up in the search, you’ll find yourself saddened by the event which ends the expedition (a forest fire destroys territory that the researchers believed might be a migration route for a family of Bigfoots). Though a few scenes are obviously staged (when a scientist calls Morgan to give him the analysis of some hairs he found at the site of a Bigfoot sighting, I find it hard to believe that the camera crews just happened to be both with Morgan and the scientist to catch the phone conversation), for the most part it comes across as authentic. Perhaps the most interesting fact that I came by on my research was to discover that Robert W. Morgan, who appears in several movies of this type, also wrote, directed and appeared in the interesting if uneven BLOOD STALKERS.

The Cannibal Man (1972)

aka La semana del asesino, Apartment on the Thirteenth Floor
Article 2900 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-16-2009
Posting Date: 7-22-2009
Directed by Eloy de la Iglesia
Featuring Vicente Parra, Emma Cohen, Eusebio Poncela
Country: Spain

When a slaughterhouse worker accidentally kills a cabbie, he finds himself caught up in a spiral of murder to cover up his crime.

This movie was promoted with a gimmick; patrons were offered free vomit bags when watching the film. Combine that with the lurid (and inaccurate) English title (the Spanish title translates into WEEK OF THE KILLER), and you have a promotional campaign designed to appeal to horror fans. The first half of the movie may satisfy them, but the second half won’t, as the movie’s focus shifts away from the killer’s spiraling nightmare and more onto his relationship with a neighbor who lives in a nearby high-rise who may be aware of the bodies that the killer is keeping in his bedroom. It’s this relationship that gives the movie its soul; it’s more interesting than the murder spiral, which gets repetitive in its predictability (people keep discovering the previous murders, and he has to keep killing new people). If the barf bags were useful at all, it was most likely during the opening slaughterhouse scene, which was probably grotesque enough to drive many people away who might have appreciated the subtler character aspects of the film. Still, given the subject matter, it’s no surprise it was promoted the way it was; after all, it had a better chance of making money that way than by being promoted as an art film. And it is at least halfway a horror film.

The Return (1980)

aka The Alien’s Return
Article 2899 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-15-2009
Posting Date: 7-21-2009
Directed by Greydon Clark
Featuring Jan-Michael Vincent, Cybill Shepherd, Martin Landau
Country: USA

Twenty-five years ago, three people in a small town had an encounter with a UFO. Today, all three people find themselves back in town. What did the encounter mean, and what is in store for them?

It starts out all right; the encounter with the UFO is intriguing enough to catch our interest. But once the action shifts to the present, the movie loses focus and steam, and, despite attempts to rekindle our interest with a cattle mutilation subplot and some tepid action sequences, it never recovers. An interesting cast (which includes, among those listed above, Raymond Burr, Neville Brand and Vincent Schiavelli) can’t save it either, largely because most of them are wasted in weak roles. At heart, the movie is heavily influenced by CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, with touches of STAR WARS and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY thrown into the mix, but it spins its wheels too badly to have much impact. This one is dull and forgettable.

Alakazam the Great (1960)

aka Saiyu-ki
Article 2898 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-14-2009
Posting Date: 7-20-2009
Directed by Lee Kresel, Daisaku Shirakawa, Osamu Tezuka and Taiji Yabushita
Featuring the voices of Frankie Avalon, Sterling Holloway, Jackie Joseph
Country: Japan

When a monkey becomes king of the animals, the power goes to his head and he seeks to rule the humans as well (with the help of magic he learns from Merlin). His arrogance gets him imprisoned, and in order to gain his release, he must go on a pilgrimage to learn mercy, humility and unselfishness.

I first heard about this movie from the book “The Fifty Worst Films of All Time”. Quite frankly, the movie doesn’t belong on that list, but I can see how it made it. Despite having a good story and making creative use of animation on occasion, the movie has some problems, some of which I’m sure have more to do with changes made to adapt the story to English-speaking audiences. The choice of voice actors is questionable at times and the songs are very weak, but these are minor problems. I think its biggest problem is the music; the score seems to be perpetually frantic, constantly giving the sense that it’s some sort of non-stop action-packed spectacle when it should pull back and take a more lyrical approach much of the time. As a result, the movie ends up having a rather queasy unpleasantness about it, making it much harder to watch than it should be. I don’t know if the original version has this problem, but I suspect that if I watch it again, I may do so with the sound turned off so I won’t be distracted from the visuals. At any rate, I believe there’s a decent animated fantasy underneath all of this.

Man in the Dark (1953)

Aricle 2897 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-13-2009
Posting Date: 7-19-2009
Directed by Lew Landers
Featuring Edmond O’Brien, Audrey Totter, Ted de Corsia
Country: USA

A criminal who masterminded a payroll robbery is the subject of a brain operation that is designed to eliminate his criminal tendencies. It also gives him amnesia about his former life. However, he is then kidnapped by his old cronies who want to find out where he hid the money from the robbery…

According to IMDB, this is a remake of THE MAN WHO LIVED TWICE, and it certainly shares the basic premise of that movie. It does, however, take the story in a different (and much more conventional) direction. It also updates it, by giving it a noirish feel and shooting it in 3-D, and, though I saw it flat, it looks like it must have been fun if seen that way. The noir touches are less successful; all too often, the dialogue comes off as forced and phony rather than sharp and crackling. Still, the movie is watchable and quite entertaining, and with a running time of only seventy minutes, it doesn’t wear out its welcome, though its occasionally rushing to get to some plot points while taking its time to get to others ends up leaving it feeling a bit silly. There’s a great dream sequence, though, in which the criminal finds himself being chased by cops in an amusement park, even when he gets on a bumper car ride.

The Devil’s Eye (1960)

aka Djavulens oga
Article 2896 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-12-2009
Posting Date: 7-18-2009
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Featuring Jarl Kulle, Bibi Andersson, Stig Jarrel
Country: Sweden

The devil is plagued by a sty in his eye, the result of a woman who has so far remained a virgin before marriage. To fix the situation, he sends up Don Juan to seduce her. Will evil triumph, or will good save the day?

Comedies are not Ingmar Bergman’s specialty, and he knows it, so, through the use of some distancing techniques (the movie is narrated by Gunnar Bjornstrand, who makes sure we understand what Bergman’s intentions are), he makes sure we get the point. It is a comedy, and an amusing one, but Bergman being Bergman, it’s certainly not an empty-headed one; he uses it as a springboard to explore good and evil and the subtleties with which these two forces play off of each other. We have three different temptations here; Don Juan tempts the virtuous young woman, Don Juan’s servant tempts the wife of the vicar (against Satan’s wishes), and a troublemaking demon (sent along to keep Don Juan on his task and to make sure Don Juan’s servant doesn’t get what he wants) tempts a naive vicar. The third of these conflicts is perhaps the most amusing, and its resolution ends up impacting the success of the other temptations. In the battle there does emerge a clear winner, but things are never that simple in Bergman’s universe, and the other side does have some success. The performances are all wonderful, though Bibi Andersson, Nils Poppe and Sture Lagerwall stand out the best.

I hope I get to see some more of Bergman’s work as part of this series; he is rapidly becoming one of my favorite directors.

Beyond Atlantis (1973)

Article 2895 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-11-2009
Posting Date: 7-17-2009
Directed by Eddie Romero
Featuring Patrick Wayne, John Ashley, Leigh Christian
Country: USA / Philippines

When a pimp discovers a source for rare pearls, he organizes an expedition to the island where they can be found. However, they have to contend with the natives, who may be descendants of the lost Atlanteans.

All you have to do is see Eddie Romero’s name next to John Ashley’s, and you’ll know it’s another Filipino movie. This one’s okay; the cast is fun (Patrick Wayne, Sid Haig, Eddie Garcia, Vic Diaz and George Nader), the women are attractive, and the underwater photography is excellent. However, the script is too unfocused to really build up any steam, which is a real problem in the final part of the movie. Furthermore, the Atlantean makeup is … well, let’s call it Wilderesque (and I don’t mean Billy, but his brother H. Lee, who directed the notorious KILLERS FROM SPACE). The ending is also pretty unsatisfying.