Infra-Man (1975)

INFRA-MAN (1975)
aka Zhong guo chao ren
Article 2993 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-18-2009
Posting Date: 10-24-2009
Directed by Shan Hua
Featuring Danny Lee, Terry Liu, Hsieh Wang
Country: Hong Kong

In order to battle an attack by subterranean monsters led by the evil Princess Dragon Mom, a Professor transforms his assistant into the indestructible super-hero Infra-Man.

In this movie, the Shaw Brothers take the basic Japanese superhero premise (Starman, Ultraman, etc), combine it with their own martial arts movies, inject it with the manic energy of a busload of kids all hyped up on sugar and caffeine, and the result is one of the most insane guilty cinematic pleasures of all time which is only enhanced by the ridiculous dialogue and bad dubbing. Here are my ten favorite moments of insanity from this epic.

1) A man informing a committee that “the situation at this time is so serious, it’s the worst in human history”.

2) Infra-Man, having just been created, makes his first appearance and we see onlookers pointing to him and saying, “Look! Infra-Man!”

3) Infra-Man does battle with a monster bug, who suddenly turns into a giant. After a few minutes of avoiding the bug’s attacks, Infra-Man then turns into a giant himself. This scene has all the logic of children playing a pretend game and making up the rules as they go along.

4) The first appearance of Princess Dragon Mom’s minion monsters, who flail their various appendages incessantly and chatter endlessly about how they look forward to destroying things.

5) The professor telling his daughter about the most wonderful moment in his life; her birth. According to the Professor, this event happened with “no warning at all”. Either he wasn’t paying very close attention, or he’s not as smart as he seems.

6) To enhance Infra-Man’s powers, the professor gives him “thunderball fists”, the device that is supposed to finally make Infra-Man all-powerful. For the rest of the movie, Infra-Man dispatches with the monster mostly by using, not his thunderball fists, but by his jet-pack feet.

7). The power goes out while Infra-Man is being created. The professor tells one of his helpers that if he doesn’t fix the power in one minute, Infra-Man will die. On the way to fix the power, the helper is assaulted by a giant tentacle, which dangles him up in the air. Fortunately, a team of other helpers emerge just in time with a circular saw, which cuts off the tentacle, allowing the helper to reach the lever which fixes the power.

8) Despite all of his powers, Infra-Man spends most of the movie battling his foes with kung fu. And he always does a triple backflip before attacking.

9) Princess Dragon Mom threatens to drop the Professor’s daughter into a lava pit if he doesn’t create an Infra-Man for her. He refuses. She responds by… freezing them both in a block of ice until they reconsider. Talk about idle threats.

10) Infra-Man himself is dropped into the lava pit, and it looks like the end of him… until he remembers he can fly.

There are others, but these give good hints of the absurd charm of what may be my favorite super-hero movie of them all. I wish there was a sequel, and though IMDB does list one, the movie they list is THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN, which seems to have little relation to this one.

Galaxy Express 999 (1979)

GALAXY EXPRESS 999 (1979)
aka Gingo tetsudo Three-Nine
Article 2992 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-17-209
Posting Date: 10-23-2009
Directed by Rintaro
Featuring the voices of Saffron Henderson, Kathleen Barr, Don Brown
Country: Japan

A young boy steals a train ticket to the interplanetary Galaxy Express in the hopes of going to the planet of Andromeda to get a machine body, and to seek revenge on the evil Count Mecha for the murder of his mother. In order to keep from being captured by the police, he teams up with a mysterious woman who may have an agenda of her own…

Though this is not my first encounter with anime for this series (I’ve seen a couple of early Japanese animation features that have been described as early examples of the form, and I’ve seen an anthology film from the early nineties called NEO-TOKYO that also qualifies), I can’t help but feel that this one constitutes my real initiation into the form. I’m glad for the experience; since one of my goals in this movie-watching project was to become more familiar with the whole realm of fantastic cinema, it’s always exciting to embark on a new exploratory journey of this sort. Of course, anytime this happens, it takes some getting used to the new form; my biggest problems with this movie were that I found the visual style jarring and occasionally unpleasant at times, and some of the English dubbing is bothersome; the voice of the main character made me feel like the actor was suffering from constipation during the whole dubbing process of the movie. However, I loved the rich complexity of the story, which, despite the abundance of spectacle, manages to hold on to the human story underneath it all. It has a nice touch for surreal iconic images, such as the flying trains and pirate ships, and some of them are truly fascinating; I love the scene on Pluto with the ice graveyard of people who have given up their bodies to become machines, and which is maintained by a woman who, when she took on her machine body, decided to have one without a face. In the final analysis, I found it all a satisfying epic fantasy, though one not without its flaws; we have at least one too many scenes where the hero is saved from death by a recently-made friend, and the long goodbye at the end is way too long. But these are minor annoyances, and I look forward to more adventures with the anime form.

I Dismember Mama (1974)

I DISMEMBER MAMA (1974)
aka Poor Albert and Little Annie
Article 2991 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-16-2009
Posting Date: 10-22-2009
Directed by Paul Leder
Featuring Zooey Hall, Geri Reischl, Joanne Moore Jordan
Country: USA

A young man is kept in an institution after attempting to kill his mother. After he attacks a nurse, he is marked to go into an institution with higher security, but he escapes, intent on finding his mother and killing her.

I found Paul Leder’s MY FRIENDS NEED KILLING better than expected, but then, I was expecting the worst. If there’s any one thing that strikes me that this movie shares with that one, it’s that he liked to make psycho-killer movies that were a little bit off the beaten path. That doesn’t mean they work, and this movie features one of the most ill-advised sequences in cinema history; after having established the killer as an arrogant, hateful psychotic who terrorizes, humiliates and finally murders his mother’s servant, the movie then has the psycho fall in love with the servant’s nine-year old daughter, a circumstance which eventually leads to one of those romantic montages of the psycho and the little girl having fun around the town while a song plays on the soundtrack. This looks for all the world like an honest-to-God attempt to garner sympathy and affection for the psycho; I found this sequence utterly reprehensible, and if there’s any part of the movie where I would have been tempted to use the “Up Chuck Cups” that were handed out to ticket-buyers, this is it. It’s very cheaply made, though the musical score (which is often totally inappropriate) does its damnedest to cover up the fact that the direction is dull and lifeless. Even gorehounds will be disappointed at the small amount of blood in this one. In the end, it’s not horrifying or scary; just unpleasant and unaffecting.

Horror Castle (1963)

HORROR CASTLE (1963)
aka La vergine di Norimberga
Article 2990 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-15-2009
Posting Date: 10-21-2009
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Featuring Rossana Podesta, Georges Riviere, Christopher Lee
Country: Italy

A woman is brought to the ancestral home of her new husband, only to discover that there is a horrible family secret. Is it possible that the ghost of a family ancestor who practiced horrible tortures is active?

There are some problems with this Italian horror movie; the musical score is often either overbearing or inappropriate, and much of the running time is dedicated to trotting out some tired Italian horror movie cliches. However, this one has some real pluses; the backstory is quite original, and there’s a wonderful make-up job on display in the last half-hour of the movie. However, what makes it memorable is that it really delivers some strong horror jolts; the opening sequence is memorable, as is the first view of the hooded figure’s face. The real kicker, though, is a sequence involving rats in the middle of the movie that will definitely stick with you; it’s perhaps the most shocking moment in Italian horror cinema of the period. Though it’s not as good as Margheriti’s CASTLE OF BLOOD, it’s still a worthy shocker in its own right.

High Plains Drifter (1973)

HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973)
Article 2989 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-14-2009
Posting Date: 10-20-2009
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Featuring Clint Eastwood, Verna Bloom, Marianna Hill
Country: USA

Fearing the arrival of three released criminals who were framed by them, the townspeople of Lago hire the services of a gunslinger who has wandered into the town. But the gunslinger has a secret agenda of his own. And furthermore, he’s no stranger to the town and its cowardly inhabitants…

Most attempts at horror westerns feel forced, as if the horror elements were grafted onto the western landscape and expected to live and breathe in a sort of artificial gravity. Not so this one. It works because it finds that crucial point where a western plot and a horror plot can intersect; really, it’s only a small step for revenge from this side of the grave to move over into revenge from beyond the grave. It also helps that Clint Eastwood has played men with no names in westerns before; it’s a bit of his western tradition, and it lends itself to a horror interpretation that also works well. Add to that the wicked gallows humor that permeates the story, and that the revenge is two-fold; not only do perpetrators of a murder need to be punished, but so do the cowardly townspeople who refused to help. What drives the plot is that the punishment must be different for these groups of people, and the elaborate way in which the townspeople must pay their penance is one of the compelling elements of the story. It’s also really nice to see midget Billy Curtis in a substantial and pivotal role here as one of the few townspeople who doesn’t become the target of the gunslinger’s wrath. And, of course, it’s really enjoyable to get a chance to cover a Clint Eastwood movie for this series in which he plays something other than a cameo role in a fifties science fiction movie.

Exorcism (1975)

EXORCISM (1975)
aka Exorcismo
Article 2988 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-13-2009
Posting Date: 10-19-2009
Directed by Juan Bosch
Featuring Paul Naschy, Maria Perschy, Maria Kosty
Country: Spain

A woman gets possessed after taking part in a Satanic ceremony. A priest tries to exorcise her.

I’ve seen enough imitations of THE EXORCIST now to know what to expect from them. And I’ve seen enough Paul Naschy movies to know what to expect from them as well. In either case, the expectations are not high. So when I say this Paul Naschy rip-off of THE EXORCIST doesn’t live up to my expectations, I’m not saying I expected it to be as good as its model, but that it didn’t even meet the low expectations I went in with. Quite frankly, the first three-quarters of the movie are a muddled bore; it’s almost as if it doesn’t even want to be a horror movie, but a mystery, and not a good one at that. Oh, it throws in some nude cavorting at the Satanic mass, but for the most part, it’s talk, and not very interesting talk. The possession only really begins in the last reel, and that pretty much unfolds as you’d expect, though that’s not to say it’s effective. I can appreciate that the movie was trying to be low-key (which is something you don’t expect in a Paul Naschy film), but it ends up merely dull.

Hercules and the Princess of Troy (1965)

HERCULES AND THE PRINCESS OF TROY (1965)
TV-Movie
Article 2987 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-12-2009
Posting Date: 10-18-2009
Directed by Albert Band
Featuring Gordon Scott, Paul Stevens, Mart Hulswit
Country: Italy / USA

Hercules agrees to free Troy from a curse that requires the residents to sacrifice its maidens to a sea monster. However, he soon discovers that there are some Trojans who don’t want the curse lifted…

Those who can’t stand the bad dubbing and think sword-and-sandal movies are way too long may find this one more to their liking; since it was originally intended as a pilot for a TV series, it runs only 47 minutes, and the cast consists entirely of English-speaking actors. Gordon Scott had already appeared in a number of these types of movies in Italy, as well as having played Tarzan for several movies prior to that. The cast also features another veteran of sword-and-sandal films; that’s Gordon Mitchell as the pirate captain. All in all, it’s pretty much what you’d expect for a TV-series attempt at the genre, and the monster is one of the better ones out there for these movies. I suspect the idea of a Hercules TV-series would have flown better a few years earlier; by this time, the genre had burned itself out through an excess of product, and the trend was turning towards James Bond imitations. Besides, given the repetitive nature of the movies of the genre, I wonder if a series could have come up with a fresh plot for each episode, or fallen into formula (with, say, an evil queen every other week). We’ll leave Diogenes to figure out that question.

Guru, the Mad Monk (1970)

GURU, THE MAD MONK (1970)
Article 2986 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-11-2009
Posting Date: 10-17-2009
Directed by Andy Milligan
Featuring Neil Flanagan, Jaqueline Webb, Judith Israel
Country: USA

A monk maintains a church on a small island used for the execution and punishment of criminals. The monk uses grave-robbing to supplement his income, keeps a hunchback as an assistant, and has a blood-drinking mistress who feeds on wanderers.

I’ve gone over Andy Milligan’s flaws before; the uneven acting, the bad sound, the unconvincing attempts at period trappings, cheap gore effects, lousy photography and the bad editing are all here. Nevertheless, this is one of Milligan’s better movies. At least part of this reason is that Neil Flanagan is a fairly decent actor, and he does what he can with the role of Father Guru, especially during a scene where his split personality comes out in a conversation with a mirror. Another reason is its short length; though it does get a bit confusing in the final reel, it isn’t long enough to lapse into complete incoherence, and you don’t end up wondering what just happened when the movie ends. Granted, I’ve only seen a cut 56-version of the movie; the longer version runs 62 minutes. It’s not good, by any means, but right now I do give it the award as the most watchable of Milligan’s movies.

The Deadly Dust (1978)

THE DEADLY DUST (1978)
aka Spider-Man Strikes Back TV-Movie
Article 2985 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-10-2009
Posting Date: 10-16-2009
Directed by Ron Satlof
Featuring Nicholas Hammond, Robert F. Simon, Chip Fields
Country: USA

When some plutonium is stolen from a college lab by some college students, Spider-Man becomes a suspect of the robbery. However, when the students build an atomic bomb from the plutonium, it falls into the hands of a criminal organization. Can Spider-Man prove his innocence and retrieve the plutonium?

It’s nice to be able to follow up the pilot of “The Amazing Spider-Man” with the movie culled from the first two episodes of the series. I see they made a few changes to improve things a little; the character of Captain Barbera has been toned down considerably, and the actor playing J. Jonah Jameson has been replaced by Robert F. Simon, who plays it a lot closer to the Jameson I remember. It throws in a female reporter who is trying to get an interview with Spider-Man, but this does little more than give Peter Parker a few more complications and a hint of romance, neither of which really helps matters much. The story is rather weak, but it does get away a little from the rather tiresome wall-crawling that filled up much of the running time of the pilot. It looks like Robert Alda’s character was being primed to be a regular villain (especially as he escapes at the end of the movie), but it looks as if it was his only appearance in the series. At any rate, this is probably the last time I will touch upon the series, as I appear to have seen all of the episodes that were converted into movies from it.

Spider-Man (1977)

SPIDER-MAN (1977)
TV-Movie
aka The Amazing Spider-Man
Article 2984 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-9-2009
Posting Date: 10-15-1009
Directed by E.W. Swackhamer
Featuring Nicholas Hammond, David White, Michael Pataki
Country: USA

After being bitten by a radioactive spider, a college student / photographer develops super powers. He uses them to do battle with an evil man who has developed a method of mind control.

I think some TV-series were launched with the hope that they would eventually kick in and find a home with the TV viewing audience even if the pilot wasn’t promising, and I suspect that was the hope when they decided to make “The Amazing Spider-Man”. I don’t think it was on the strength of this rather weak pilot. About the best thing I can say about this one is that the special effects are quite passable for a TV-series, and I do like the fact that Spider-Man here actually does seem like an spider at times as he scurries up and down the walls. What it lacks is compelling characters; Nicholas Hammond is quite bland as Peter Parker / Spider-Man, and David White never really gets into the spirit of J. Jonah Jameson, a role that could potentially have been a lot of fun. In fact, Michael Pataki’s Captain Barbera character seems to have more of a J. Jonah Jameson feel than Jameson himself; unfortunately, he chews the scenery overmuch, is given the worst dialogue of the movie, and is saddled with a comic relief sidekick. Like most super-hero TV shows of the era, it dispensed with the super-villains they faced in the comics in favor of more conventional action-adventure-TV-type villains, which I suspect was due to the fact that super-villains would have blown out the special effects budget. It’s watchable, I suppose, but hardly encouraging. Nonetheless, it did make it to a series, though not one that lasted very long.