La charrette fantome (1939)

aka The Phantom Wagon, The Phantom Chariot
Article 3115 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-8-2009
Posting Date: 2-24-2010
Directed by Julien Duvivier
Featuring Pierre Fresnay, Marie Bell, Micheline Francey
Country: France
What it is: Drama/Fantasy

An alcoholic tramp has a friend die on the last day of the year who then, according to legend, becomes the driver of the phantom chariot that collects the souls of the dead for the next year. A tubercular woman with the Salvation Army attempts to reform the tramp so that he will return to his wife and kids, but she fears he may become the next chariot driver…

It’s in French without subtitles, and, despite the fact that I’ve seen the earlier silent Sjostrom version, much of the story seems different this time, and, due to the language problem, is hard to follow. However, I was able to pick up at least the major threads of the story, and there’s a nice visual sense permeating the movie. Also, you don’t always need to understand the language to appreciate fine acting, and this movie has great performances from Pierre Fresnay, Micheline Francey and Louis Jouvet. Most of the movie plays like a drama, with the phantom wagon aspect of the plot only coming in near the beginning and then more extensively in the end; the special effects during these sequences are wonderful.

Some people may wonder why I bother trying to watch movies in languages I don’t understand, but I’ve grown to like the challenge, and I have experienced some lovely cinema that I might otherwise have missed. I’m glad I made the effort.

The Antichrist (1974)

aka L’anticristo, The Tempter
Article 3114 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-6-2009
Posting Date: 2-22-2010
Directed by Alberto De Martino
Featuring Carla Gravina, Mel Ferrer, Arthur Kennedy
Country: Italy
What it is: Italian Exorcist rip-off

A woman with paralyzed legs and family issues is treated by a parapsychologist who discovers she was a witch in her previous life. His attempts to cure her result in her possession by the devil.

It takes THE EXORCIST and adds a dose of ROSEMARY’S BABY and a few touches of the Bridey Murphy story, throws in some incest themes, and tries to up the gross-out ante on occasion. Thanks to some sharp editing, some strong production values, wonderful location footage, and the addition of English-speaking actors (Mel Ferrer, Arthur Kennedy and George Coulouris) to minimize dubbing difficulties for American audiences, this ends up being one of the better Italian takes on THE EXORCIST I’ve seen to date. Still, it never really transcends being a rip-off; when all is said and done, it’s the equivalent of eating reheated leftovers. It might have helped if the actress playing the possessee had managed to engender our sympathy, but she’s too self-pitying and grudge-filled, and her primary facial expression is a contemptuous pout; I found it impossible to care for her plight. As a result, the movie, though well-made, left very little impact.

Swords of the Space Ark (1981)

Article 3113 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-5-2009
Posting Date: 2-21-2010
Directed by Bunker Jenkins and Minoru Yamada
Featuring Hiroyuki Sanada
Country: Japan
What it is: STAR WARS clone via Japanese TV series

Three pilots undertake to destroy the evil Roxia with the help of the hearts of three planets and the woman from the Space Ark, Sophia.

From the moment I saw the title, I suspected a STAR WARS clone. From the minute I heard the rinky-dink theme music, I knew it was going to be a cheesy STAR WARS clone. The minute I saw the way the credits segue into the movie, I knew we were dealing with a movie culled from episodes of a TV series, and I was wondering which TV series it would be. The second I saw the first actual human character, I knew it was from a Japanese TV series. And the minute I heard the Chewbacca-style talking ape mention banana daquiris, I knew we were at the bottom of the barrel.

The series was “Uchu kara no messegi: Ginga taisen”, it ran 27 episodes of 23 minutes each, which puts it at 623 minutes. Since this movie only runs 70 minutes, it’s missing almost 8/9ths of the footage. Fortunately, the movie does remain a little coherent, though it’s obvious that events are rushed at all points. You get space battles, beautiful women disguised as old crones, a mystical spaceship, retractable swords, evil betrayals, good and bad twins, talking apes with unmoving mouths, lots of things blowing up, and badly dubbed actors mouthing idiotic dialogue. This movie is either bad movie paradise or unwatchable dreck, depending on who you are (and you know that better than I).

The Sleep of Death (1981)

Article 3112 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-4-2009
Posting Date: 2-20-2010
Directed by Calvin Floyd
Featuring Per Oscarsson, Patrick Magee, Manilu Tolo
Country: Sweden/Ireland
What it is: Arty vampire story

A young Englishman, heir to a great fortune, visits France and becomes enamored with a countess. What kind of hold does the count have over her? And what about the Colonel he keeps encountering? And of the marquis, his strange new companion? And why do people keep showing up dead…?

I’ve only seen this movie once, and I have to admit I’m not quite sure what’s all happened at the end of the movie; it may be the movie was a little too subtle for me to grasp in one viewing, or it may be the movie is muddled. It is quite slow-moving, and, if anything, it reminds me a bit of VAMPYR. This may not be a coincidence; both movies make unusual use of vampire scenarios, and both are based on works by Sheridan Le Fanu (albeit different works). Director Calvin Floyd has a Fellini-esque eye for interesting faces, and the movie does have a nice period sense. There’s also a bit of science fiction content to the movie, as the plot revolves around a drug that puts people in a deathlike state. All in all, I found the movie interesting and unpredictable, but a little too slow to get moving. And it may take a second viewing to figure out the details of the plot.

Life, Liberty and Pursuit on the Planet of the Apes (1981)

Article 3111 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-3-2009
Posting Date: 2-19-2010
Directed by Arnold Laven and Alf Kjellin
Featuring Roddy McDowall, Ron Harper, James Naughton
Country: USA
What it is: TV episodes edited into feature

In the first half, Virdon is shot and will die unless he is smuggled into a hospital for treatment. In the second, Burke is captured and subjected to brainwashing techniques, so Galen and Virdon must rescue him.

I still think the title in this particular entry of the series of TV-Movies culled from the “Planet of the Apes” TV series is awful, but it appears to be culled from a couple of the better episodes of the series. Now, to be honest, I actually haven’t seen the TV-Movie version, as I’ve not been able to find it, but since I know the two episodes that were used, and I’ve seen some of the other TV-Movies, I’ve been able to recreate the experience, as, other than some changes to the credit sequences, virtually no real editing was done. There is a certain art to picking which episodes to put together, and this one does a decent job of picking two episodes that were different enough from each other to seem distinct, while still having some common touches; in both, one of the humans is out of the action, scientific experiments are undertaken, and both revolve around ancient books (one on human anatomy, the other on brainwashing). Both episodes are pretty good, though the second one, which feature Beverly Garland, gets the edge.

Still, the episodes do display some of the problems that plagued the series; the dialogue is often clunky, the themes a little too obvious, and the two humans were never developed as distinct characters (you could reverse the roles of the characters in any episode without changing anything more than the references to the character names, and I don’t think anyone would notice). The non-development of the human character turns the series by default into the adventures of Galen, who displays oodles of character. I also grew to appreciate the skill of Mark Lenard’s performance as Urko the gorilla; he has great presence and imbues his character with a subtle but distinct sense of humor, and I found myself looking forward to his scenes.

Submersion of Japan (1973)

aka Nippon chinbotsu, Tidal Wave
Article 3110 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-2-2009
Posting Date: 2-18-2010
Directed by Shiro Moritani
Featuring Keiju Kobayashi, Hiroshi Fujioka, Tetsuro Tanba
Country: Japan
What it is: The ultimate disaster movie

The disappearance of an island in the Pacific and an exploration of the ocean floor leads scientists to the conclusion that a change in the continental drift will result in the sinking of Japan into the ocean. The question is…what to do about the people?

The reportedly awful American reedit of this movie (known as TIDAL WAVE and featuring new footage with Lorne Greene) is 82 minutes long. The full Japanese version is 143 minutes long. My version runs 110 minutes and is sans Lorne Greene, making it longer than the American version but still a full half hour shy of the long version. I do find myself wondering what is missing from my version.

I can understand why the movie was recut and modified for American audiences; I found much of the non-destruction footage in this version to be sincere but rather dry and boring. I also found it sometimes hard to follow in detail, which may have to do with cultural differences. Still, there are moments where this movie goes further into the reality of a disaster of this proportion than any other disaster movie I’ve seen; I get insights into what it might be like for a whole people to be torn apart and to no longer have a home to go to. The scenes of destruction are quite impressive, but other quieter moments are just as chilling; when one character talks about modifying the maps, the mundane nature of the idea causes the immensity of the catastrophe to hit home. Somehow, I suspect the American version cut out much of the heart and soul of this movie as well as the dull parts, and, though IMDB lists both movies as a single entity, I wish they were separate entities; with a rating of 5.0, I find myself wondering how the votes would separate themselves out depending on which version was seen.

Stryker (1983)

STRYKER (1983)
Article 3109 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-1-2009
Posting Date: 1-17-2010
Directed by Cirio H. Santiago
Featuring Steve Sandor, Andrea Savio, Mike Lane
Country: Philippines
What it is: ROAD WARRIOR clone

It’s after the apocalypse. Water is scarce. People fight over it. Carnage ensues.

In this future world, water is scarce. So is meaningful dialogue. However, there are some things that aren’t scarce: guns, bullets, leatherware, short-shorts, motor vehicles of all sizes, gasoline, rocks, short snatches of imperative dialogue (“Let’s Go!”, “Move!”, “Stop Them!”, etc.), hair stylists, makeup, dwarfs (there’s a whole tribe of them), hoary cliches, and, by the end of the movie, dead bodies. I found this movie on a collection called “Grindhouse Experience Volume 2”; that should tell you volumes.

Let’s face it; some movies aren’t meant to be reviewed. They’re meant to either be a) not watched, or b) watched and quickly forgotten. Let the memory clearing begin!