Journey to Midnight (1968)

JOURNEY TO MIDNIGHT (1968)
Article 2996 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-21-2009
Posting Date: 10-27-2009
Directed by Roy Ward Baker and Alan Gibson
Featuring Sebastian Cabot, Chad Everett, Bernard Lee
Country: UK

Two stories of the supernatural are presented. In the first, an American is invited to a costume party at a provincial English manor despite not knowing anyone there. There he discovers a dark secret. In the second, a woman seeks to communicate to her dead husband, and towards that end, she hires a private detective to spot fake mediums so she won’t be bilked. What she doesn’t know is that he detective himself is part of a scam…

Here’s another movie created by editing two TV episodes together, in this case from “Journey to the Unknown”, an anthology series. It’s definitely a mixed bag. The first story is one of those standard plots in which you’ll see the final twist fairly early in the proceedings. Had the episode been sharply directed and crisply paced, it wouldn’t have mattered, but it’s stodgy, dull and overlong; you’ll wait forever to find out what you already know. The second story is much better; by taking the old concept of phony spiritualists and giving it a fresh new twist, it manages to hold the interest quite well, even if you can figure out how it’s going to come out. The story itself is from Robert Bloch, and Roy Ward Baker manages to give it a genuinely eerie feel. The linking segments are narrated by Sebastian Cabot, and they feel a bit tacked on. Incidentally, the two episodes of the series were originally called “Poor Butterfly” and “The Indian Spirit Guide”.

It! (1965)

IT! (1965)
Article 2995 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-20-2009
Posting Date: 10-26-2009
Directed by Herbert J. Leder
Featuring Roddy McDowall, Jill Haworth, Paul Maxwell
Country: UK / USA

When a museum’s warehouse burns down, the only surviving piece is an ominous-looking statue. When people begin dying mysteriously in its proximity, the assistant to the curator begins to suspect that the statue is the Golem of legend. Now, if he can only find the scroll that will bring it to life…

An update of the legend of the Golem isn’t a bad idea. Crossing it with PSYCHO (the assistant keeps his dead mother in his house) is merely bizarre, even if Roddy McDowell does make for an effective ersatz Anthony Perkins. Giving the assistant psychic powers with which to communicate with the Golem is piling it on a bit thick. Having the assistant hallucinate that his dead, mummified mother is the naked body of the woman he loves is just plain silly. And having the military and the police decide that the best way to defeat the Golem is to use the atomic bomb on it takes the movie to levels of absurdity that boggle the mind. In case you’re missing the point, I can only summarize by telling you that the script of this movie is an overblown, silly mess, which doesn’t mean that it’s not fun in its own way. And at least McDowell keeps the entertainment level running pretty high. And there’s one thing I have to admit – that Golem statue is pretty creepy.

Night of the Big Heat (1967)

NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT (1967)
aka Island of the Burning Doomed
Article 2994 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-19-2009
Posting Date: 10-25-2009
Directed by Terence Fisher
Featuring Christopher Lee, Patrick Allen, Peter Cushing
Country: UK

An island near England is having unseasonably warm weather. A scientist on the island discovers that the weather is not a meteorological fluke, but a symptom of something far more ominous…

I’d heard about this movie for years, and I always thought it would prove to be a variation on THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE. Instead, I find it’s a lot more similar to ISLAND OF TERROR, another movie from the same production company. It starts out as an intriguing mystery of sort, but, unfortunately, it’s one of those mysteries that loses its allure once it’s been solved. Several things disappoint me here; the revelation about the cause of the heat, the special effects surrounding this revelation, and the fact that the story ends up getting badly mired in an irritating romantic triangle subplot. It’s also one of those movies where the day-for-night photography is particularly distracting. Peter Cushing does his usual fine job, but his role is too small, and Christopher Lee tries his best with a role that isn’t particularly well-written. All in all, this was a disappointment.

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.