Cul-de-sac (1966)

CUL-DE-SAC (1966)
Article 3274 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-6-2010
Posting Date: 8-1-2010
Directed by Roman Polanski
Featuring Donald Pleasence, Francoise Dorelac, Lionel Stander
Country: UK
What it is: Darkly comic crime drama

A meek artist and his philandering wife live at a castle on a stretch of land that is cut off from the rest of the world when the tide comes in. Two wounded criminals, one near death, take refuge in the castle when their car breaks down. Strange relationships develop between the surviving gangster and the couple.

I’m covering this title because it is included in Lentz’s “Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film and Television Credit Volume One”, and, like some of the others in the book, it’s a false alarm. I suppose if one squints real hard, you may see it as a borderline horror story; given that one character is a basket case by the end of the movie, it touches on the theme of madness a little. Still, that’s quite a stretch, and despite the fact that both Polanski and Pleasence both have prominent fantastic film credits, this one really doesn’t qualify.

It is, however, a fascinating movie in its own right. The set-up points the way to a crime thriller, with the basic premise of a desperate criminal holding two people captive until his boss can rescue him. However, the various character relationships don’t play out as simply as that. The criminal may be desperate, but he’s not sadistic nor sociopathic; if he could get out of his situation without hurting anybody, he would. He’s also not a particularly smart or competent criminal, which also makes him a little less threatening. The couple would probably be all right if they didn’t already have issues of their own. The thing that really drives the plot is the wife’s desire that her meek husband prove her love for her by standing up to criminal; to that end, she constantly sets up situations intending to force her husband’s hand, putting them all in danger that could have been avoided. The performances are stellar. Donald Pleasence is perfectly cast as the meek husband, especially as the movie progresses and he finds himself forced more and more to act out of character. Francoise Dorleac is also wonderful as the wife; she is the sister of Catherine Denueve, but whose career was cut short by a tragic car accident. Lionel Stander is also great. I’ve seen him many times before, or course, and generally found his characters enjoyable if a tad mannered. Here he comes across as extremely natural while retaining his charm; his criminal is perhaps the most likable character in the cast. The relationships are complex and fun; I particularly enjoy the sequence where the criminal has to pretend to be the couple’s gardener/servant when relatives of the husband show up out of the blue.

Crime Doctor’s Man Hunt (1946)

Article 3273 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-5-2010
Posting Date: 7-31-2010
Directed by William Castle
Featuring Warner Baxter, Ellen Drew, William Frawley
Country: USA
What it is: Crime Doctor mystery

When Dr. Ordway discovers that one of his patients has been murdered by two men, he contacts the police. Though the initial investigation leads to a dead end, Ordway begins to follow his few leads and begins to piece together the crime.

Sometimes just checking IMDB can give you the extra clue you need to solve a mystery, and I don’t necessarily mean the plot summaries or the user comments. Occasionally, I have the cast list up while watching a movie so I can identify certain actors and actresses, and one performer was giving such an odd performance that I decided to check who it was. In the process, I discovered that the cast list did not list one character in the movie at all, and this one detail, combined with what I had already observed, and taking into account the nature of the Crime Doctor movies (Ordway is a psychiatrist, and the solutions to the mysteries usually have a psychological angle to them), I was able to figure out the surprise ending long before we reached it. Granted, reading the tagline of the movie (also on IMDB) might have also given me that clue.

Well, nevertheless, I do rather enjoy the Crime Doctor movies, and this one is no exception. Some interesting names pop up in the cast; William Frawley is the police inspector, an uncredited Myron Healey is the murder victim (the opening scene of him walking past a succession of gaming booths is a highlight of the movie), and Olin Howland who does a nice comic cameo as a phrenologist. The fantastic content is pretty sketchy; the various mental conditions at play here hint at the horror theme of madness, there is a slightly spooky deserted house, and one plot element has to do with a fortune teller. None of these are really strong enough to nudge the movie into horror territory, so I’ve consigned it to the world of marginalia.

Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise (1940)

Article 3272 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-4-2010
Posting Date: 7-30-2010
Directed by Eugene Forde
Featuing Sidney Toler, Victor Sen Yung, Robert Lowery
Country: USA
What it is: Charlie Chan mystery

When a close friend from Scotland Yard is strangled in his office, Charlie Chan investigates. He knows the killer is one of several people taking part in a cruise party, so he goes along with the cruise in order to catch the killer.

As corny as the aphorism gimmick is, I couldn’t help but notice in this movie how much of Charlie Chan’s heart and soul are captured in these little observational nuggets; because Chan is required to be calm and objective on the surface, it is here (thanks to the solid writing and Sidney Toler’s fine performance) that his wit and humanity are allowed to shine through. This is definitely part of the charm of the Chan movies. This one has a fun cast that includes Lionel Atwill, Charles Middleton and Leo G. Carroll, who I didn’t recognize immediately because I’m used to seeing him a bit older. The mystery is entertaining and clever, even threatening to break the “red herring” rule at one point. The fantastic aspects here are harder to pin down; the opening scenes imply that the murderer is a serial killer of sorts, but I don’t really see how the story effectively explains murders that were previously committed to the ones that occurred here, even though it is these that bring the Scotland Yard detective into the story in the first place. In my mind, these don’t really qualify as serial-type killings. The other fantastic content is also implied; a female spiritualist is one of the suspects, but little is made of this; there isn’t even a seance scene. So, enjoyable as this one is, it’s too marginal to really belong to the fantastic genres.

The Birth of the Robot (1936)

Animated short
Article 3271 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-3-2010
Posting Date: 7-28-2010
Directed by Len Lye
No voice cast
Country: UK
What it is: Surreal puppet-style animation

Venus uses her music to turn a man who died in the desert to a robot to run the world.

No plot description really seems to be adequate to describe this surreal industrial short made by Shell Oil. The basic upshot of the short is that in ancient days, the world was turned by hand, but in these modern times, we need a robot to turn the world, and that robot will need lubrication. In between we get same strange scenes of a man driving an anthropomorphic car over the pyramids. The man and the car get caught in a storm, have hallucinations, and die. Then a rain of oil turns the skeleton of the man into a robot. You’ll be scratching your head for most of it, but, if you’re like me, you’ll enjoy it all the same. I found this one on YouTube; hopefully, it will still be there when I finally publish this one.

Blood of Ghastly Horror (1972)

Article 3270 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-2-3010
Posting Date: 7-28-2010
Directed by Al Adamson
Featuring John Carradine, Kent Taylor, Tommy Kirk
Country: USA
What it is: A mess

A zombie is killing off people. Police investigate. It all has to do with a mad scientist and a psychotic jewel robber.

Anybody watching this movie for the first time will probably end up scratching his head over the confused mess, so, for here’s my handy-dandy guide to making sense of the movie –

Dave’s Handy-Dandy BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR guide.

This movie essentially went through three different stages, which we will call Movie 1, Movie 2 and Movie 3. In order to have any chance of following this, you need to know which movie you’re watching at any particular moment. The following clues should help you keep track of this.

MOVIE 1: This was originally shot as PSYCHO-A-GO-GO, which I’ve already covered for my project. This movie is more of a heist movie than anything else; it involves a jewel robbery in which the stolen booty is accidentally left in a truck being used by a suburban family. The criminals, one of which is a sadistic psychotic, terrorize the family in the hope of recovering the jewels. The only fantastic element here is the slight horror element of the sadist. If the section you are watching involves the search for the stolen jewels by a vicious sadist, you’re watching movie 1. There are no name stars in this movie.

MOVIE 2: This movie attempts to give a backstory to Movie 1. In it, we discover that the reason the one jewel robber is so sadistic is that he was the subject of a brain experiment designed to fix the damage he underwent on his stint in Vietnam; however, the experiment went awry, leaving him a sadistic psycho. John Carradine is the scientist who performed the experiment on the psycho. If John Carradine is in the scene, you’re watching movie 2. The only shared character between the two movies so far is the sadistic psycho played by Roy Morton.

MOVIE 3: In a sense, this movie is a sequel to Movies 1 and 2. In it, another mad scientist (played by Kent Taylor) who is the father of the sadistic psycho, has created a method of turning people into killer zombies. Infuriated over the death of his son, he swears revenge on the daughter of the scientist who initially experimented on the psycho; the daughter is played by Regina Carrol. Meanwhile, cops investigate, including one played by Tommy Kirk. This movie shares no characters with the other two movies. If the footage involves a zombie missing an eye, Tommy Kirk, Regina Carrol or Kent Taylor, you’re watching movie 3.

That’s everything you need to figure out what the hell is going on in this one. Not that it makes this awful piece of tripe any better, but at least it gives you something to occupy your mind while watching it. The only enjoyment I ever got from watching the movie was trying to figure the plot out, and I had to watch it several times to get that much out of it. Now, with the above guide, you can figure it out in one sitting. Or skip it altogether.

Bikini Beach (1964)

Article 3269 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-1-2010
Posting Date: 7-27-2010
Directed by William Asher
Featuring Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Martha Hyer
Country: USA
What it is: Beach party movie

The Beach Party gang has to contend with a millionaire who is campaigning against their depravity. Furthermore, Frankie has to worry that Dee Dee will be stolen from him by that British recording star, the Potato Bug.

What can I say – it’s a Beach Party movie, and that means loud, energetic, dumb, and rather irresistible. I think it’s the only one of the series that I’ve seen for my project that features both Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in lead roles, so it’s probably the most representative of the ones I’ve covered. There’s surfing, drag racing, dancing, music, a chase scene, a brawl, a monkey (Janos Prohaska really does an impressive job in a fairly convincing monkey outfit here) who drives and surfs, and an array of guest stars (Keenan Wynn, Don Rickles, Stevie Wonder and Boris Karloff). The big question is, though – how does it qualify for this project? It’s pretty marginal for the most part; one could say that the talented monkey and a talking hawk-like bird push it into the realm of fantasy, but the most prominent element is the inexplicable appearance of a werewolf in a pool room (he just sits there). Still, to fans of fantastic cinema, the movie is probably most famous for the Boris Karloff cameo, which I’d heard about for years, and though his “monsters” comment is his most famous line here, I think I like his passing reference to Vincent Price even more.

Yokai Monsters: Along With Ghosts (1969)

aka Tokaido obaka dochu
Article 3268 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-31-2010
Posting Date: 7-26-2010
Directed by Yoshiyuki Kuroda and Kimiyoshi Yasuda
Featuring Kojiro Hongo, Pepe Hozumi, Masami Burukido
Country: Japan
What it is: Japanese ghost story

A gang of thugs ambushes a lord who carries an incriminating document; however, they kill the warlord on sacred ground, thus bringing a curse down on themselves. When the document escapes their grasp, it is seen in the possession of a young girl, who ends up under the protection of the samurai who followed the dead warlord. Between the samurai and the curse, the thugs have a difficult time of it…

This movie was apparently the third and last of a series called “Yokai monsters”; I’ve not seen the others, though I gather they had an assortment of monsters and ghosts that were pretty wild-looking. This is a fairly enjoyable Japanese ghost story; it’s somewhat milder than some of the others I’ve seen, though it does have a certain amount of violence and blood. The score is a little obnoxious at times, particularly in the opening scenes, but the scenes with the ghosts and monsters are fun, there’s a sequence involving magic dice that is quite effective, and it’s fairly moving when the little girl finally meets her father. Kojiro Hongo (who plays the samurai here) is a familiar face; he was in several Gamera movies as well as one of the Majin movies. All in all, this one was an enjoyable experience.

Young Frankenstein (1974)

Article 3267 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-30-2010
Posting Date: 7-25-2010
Directed by Mel Brooks
Featuring Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman
Country: USA
What it is: Frankenstein parody

The grandson of Frankenstein, initially skeptical about his grandfather’s experiments, comes into his inheritance, and, on discovery of his grandfather’s private notes, decides to follow in his footsteps.

After seeing this movie, I became a major fan of Mel Brooks, but drifted away after his THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD PART 1. What I eventually realized is that he was never quite able to really follow up on this one, his masterpiece. What really impresses me about it is that it nails the style; from the crisp black-and-white photography to the acting style to the score to the set design, it looks right out of one of the Universal Frankenstein movies from the thirties. The sense of authenticity makes the comedy much sharper, especially when the movie chooses to parody specific moments from the original movies (the brain stealing scene, the digging up of the body in the graveyard, the dart game, etc). The performances are universally excellent; the only reason no single actor steals the movie (though Marty Feldman comes close) is that all of them are fully capable of doing so. Favorite moments abound; I practically fell out of my chair the first time I encountered the “newly dead” head on the shelf, and I also love the game of charades, the performance of “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, the running jokes about Frau Blucher’s name and Igor’s shifting hump, anything involving Kenneth Mars’s arm, and the name “Abby Normal”. And then, of course, there’s the monster’s encounter with the blind hermit, a cameo by Gene Hackman; if the original version of the scene in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN wasn’t already indelible, I’d have trouble watching it without thinking of this parody version. One thing is sure; there were people in this production who loved the old Universal horror movies, and that shines through in every frame of this movie. It’s one of the best horror parodies of all time.

Yog, Monster from Space (1970)

aka Gezora, Ganime, Kameba: Kessen! Nankia no daikaju
Article 3266 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-29-2010
Posting Date: 7-24-2010
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Featuring Akiro Kubo, Atsuko Takahashi, Yukiko Kobayashi
Country: Japan
What it is: More giant Japanese monsters

A space probe to Jupiter is hijacked by a strange light from space, and taken back to Earth. There, the light possesses animals, makes giants of them, and uses them to terrorize an island.

The cover of my VHS shows the giant octopus monster from the movie covering the whole earth while spaceships blast at it; you can see small versions of the other monster peering out from behind it. I think this may be similar to the ad I remembered in the newspaper from when I was a kid. Had I seen it back then, I would probably be disappointed that very little of the action takes place in outer space, but I would have liked the giant monsters nonetheless. I like the central idea, as it deals with an alien force that could have manifested itself as any number of giant monsters; had the movie been made earlier in Toho’s history,it might have spawned a few sequels. I don’t mind the monsters looking a bit silly, but I’m disappointed that the action is confined to the island, and the movie makes the mistake of putting its best monster (the octopus one) out of the action after the first half of the movie, leaving the less-impressive crab and turtle monsters to fill out the second half. Oddly enough, I don’t recall anyone actually calling any of the monsters Yog.

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

Article 3265 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-28-2010
Posting Date: 7-23-2010
Directed by George Mihalka
Featuring Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck
Country: Canada
What it is: Slasher pic

Twenty years ago, two miners left their posts to attend a Valentine’s day party, and their absence resulted in a mine accident that killed several men. The only survivor ends up killing the two miners, and swears that if the town ever holds another Valentine’s Day party, he will return and begin killing again. Now, twenty years later, another Valentine’s Day Party is being planned…

Slasher movies are rather formulaic. But one thing I’ve noticed about the ones I’ve seen lately is that those that try to vary the formula too much tend to fall flat. This one sticks to the formula, and it’s one of the better ones I’ve seen recently. It has its problems, of course; occasionally, characters act suspiciously for no other reason than to throw suspicion on themselves, some of the characters verge on the annoying, and the set-up for a sequel (that never came) is one of the dumber moments in the movie. However, it does quite a number of things right. There’s something suitably scary about a killer dressed in a gas-mask and wielding a pickaxe. Setting the last half of the movie in a mine is also quite effective. The movie is also well-paced; it distributes the murders throughout the movie, and the sequences in between are interesting enough to hold your attention. The acting is solid, and the characters are developed to just the right extent for this sort of movie. Many of the scenes are dark, but there’s enough lighting to keep us from getting too confused to follow the action. Best of all, the attack scenes are efficient and well-staged; there’s not a moment here where I find myself impatiently waiting for a murder to happen while the director protracts a scene in a mistaken attempt to build suspense. In some ways, these are minor pluses, but in a movie like this, they make the difference between a movie you enjoy and one that bores you. I enjoyed this one.