Kiss of the Tarantula (1976)

Article 3264 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-27-2010
Posting Date: 7-22-2010
Directed by Chris Munger
Featuring Suzanna Ling, Eric Mason, Herman Wallner
Country: USA
What it is: Creepy girl and her creepy-crawly friends

A young girl with an affection for spiders discovers that her mother is having an affair with her uncle and plans to murder her father. She unleashes her pet tarantula on her mother. Years later, she discovers that her tarantula friends can be useful to deal with her other enemies.

This is what you get when you cross WILLARD with THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE. It’s low budget, the pace is a little slow, and it’s mostly pretty predictable. It’s one of those movies I could probably go either way with, but which, the truth is, I rather like. Part of the reason is that it’s just fun to see tarantulas crawling around all over the place. Another is that it’s somewhat satisfying in its rather pandering way; her victims are fairly unpleasant, hateful people (for the most part) who are pretty much getting what they deserve, and you like the people you’re supposed to like, especially the girl’s father. You’ll be waiting the whole movie for her to take care of the real villain of the piece; her uncle not only plots with her mother to kill her father, but in the later part of the story starts coming on to the girl herself, and, quite frankly, you’ll be waiting for that creep to get his, which he does in a quite satisfying sequence. Still, my favorite moment is a little one in the middle of the movie; the girl approaches the coffin with the body of one of the boys she’s killed, and places the corpse of the spider he killed in the coffin with him to keep him company throughout eternity. It’s far from a great movie, but it served its purpose quite well.

Season of the Witch (1972)

aka Hungry Wives
Article 3263 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-26-2010
Posting Date: 7-21-2010
Directed by George A. Romero
Featuring Jan White, Raymond Laine, Ann Muffly
Country: USA
What it is: Unusual witchcraft tale

An unhappy wife with a neglectful and sometimes abusive husband finds herself drawn to the occult.

Strange as it may seem, this is only the third film I’ve ever seen from George Romero, and only the second for this series. Reportedly, it’s George’s favorite of his first four movies, and I can see why. Granted, anyone expecting horror on the level of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is going to walk away from this one annoyed and frustrated, but I found its character-driven story and deliberately paced buildup to be rather fascinating. It’s also one of those movies where the dream sequences feel authentic and convincing, and the creative use of a recurring dream (where the housewife is being stalked and assaulted by a masked attacker) really adds to the tension. The version I saw, by the way, was the shortened 89 minute version, apparently cut from a 130 minute version by a distributor, and though I’d be curious to see the complete version, I do find myself wondering if the movie would be able to sustain itself for that length. Nevertheless, I quite like this one, though I can understand why it is considered a failure by many.

***NOTE My supposition about this being one of Romero’s favorite of his own movies may be incorrect; I’ve heard from another source that he roundly hates the movie because of its failure to turn a profit.

The House of Seven Corpses (1974)

Article 3262 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-25-2010
Posting Date: 7-20-2010
Directed by Paul Harrison
Featuring John Ireland, Faith Domergue, John Carradine
Country: USA
What it is: Scary house/zombie flick

A horror film is being shot in a creaky old mansion that was the site of occult-related murders many years ago. When the director decides to add authenticity by borrowing chants from a book of the occult found on the premises, he unwittingly unleashes great evil…

The cast is pretty good in this one, and it’s nice to see John Carradine with a role that takes up more than a minute of screen time. In fact, the opening scenes gave me some hope for the movie. The problem is that the movie takes its own sweet time to get things moving, so we’re treated to an hour of the cast and crew making the movie and yelling at each other or at the caretaker, and this gets old very fast. Things pick up a little when the zombie shows up, but his rampage and the events surrounding it are more than a little confusing. Still, I have to admit to a little fondness for a moment towards the end of the movie when the director, surrounded by all the carnage caused by the zombie, discovers the REAL tragedy. No, the movie isn’t very good, but it does have its moments, and I’ll give it credit for that.

City of the Walking Dead (1980)

aka Incubo sulla citta contaminata
Article 3261 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-24-2010
Posting Date: 7-19-2010
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Featuring Hugo Stiglitz, Laura Trotter, Maria Rosaria Omaggio
Country: Italy / Mexico / Spain
What it is: Zombie flick

An airplane passes through a radioactive area, and it turns the passengers into bloodthirsty zombies. When the plane lands, they go on a rampage of destruction.

Well, the zombies are fast moving, know how to fly planes, drive cars, cut telephone lines, and rescue trapped elevator riders, though they don’t appear to be able to talk; at least the movie gets points for making the zombies somewhat formidable. One of my sources praises the movie for being nihilistic. I don’t know about you, but for something to be effectively nihilistic, it also has to be convincing, and it never reaches that level. In fact, it’s more campy than scary, what with the idiotic dialogue of the English-dubbed version, where people state the obvious, speak in platitudes, moralize, etc; Mel Ferrer in particular never convinces me that he’s dealing with a real crisis. Oh, there’s plenty of grue for the gorehounds, and for those looking for flesh, the zombies do have a habit of tearing the blouses off their female victims before killing them. But almost every scare is telegraphed and every twist is predictable. No, I take that back; I have to admit that I didn’t see that final plot twist coming. Unfortunately, that final plot twist makes the movie several times stupider. I certainly hope this isn’t the best of the Italian zombie flicks, because it’s really the only one I’ve seen so far, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s a washout.

Public Ghost No. 1 (1935)

Article 3260 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-23-2010
Posting Date: 7-18-2010
Directed by Harold Law
Featuring Charley Chase, Joyce Compton, Edwin Maxwell
Country: USA
What it is: Comic short

An unemployed man searching for a job mistakes a lunatic inventor for a powerful executive. The inventor talks the man into partnering with him as a professional ghost. When the man is hired by a realtor to drive out residents of a newly-bought home, complications ensue.

This turned out to be a very entertaining comedy short, thanks in part to a scene-stealing performance by Edwin Maxwell as the crazed inventor. It never tries to be scary; it’s obvious the ghosts are being faked from the beginning. Some of the tactics used to scare the residents are truly bizarre, including a silly banjo number, a dog in a skull mask blowing a duck call, and a recording of someone being shot in an argument. The biggest laughs surround the inventor’s Rube Goldberg-like fly exterminator. The story relies on some pretty outrageous coincidences, but that’s part of the amusement.

The Three Stooges Meet Hercules (1962)

Article 3259 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-22-2010
Posting Date: 7-17-2010
Directed by Edward Bernds
Featuring Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Joe DeRita
Country: USA
What it is: Sword and sandal spoof

An inventor, his girlfriend, and three employees of a pharmacy go back in time to ancient Greece, where their appearance causes Ulysses to lose a war to a usurper named Odius. They must return Ulysses to the throne and save the girlfriend, who is in the power of the usurper.

I’m not sure I can think of a comedy team that lasted in movies as long as the Stooges did. I suspect that one reason is that their slapstick knockabout humor transcended trendiness; good timing is timeless. I also suspect that another reason was that they held off on making features until the end of their careers; people are quicker to forget a short that falls flat than a feature that does. None of the features really holds a candle to their best shorts, but given how long in the tooth they were, it’s perhaps amazing that the features were as good as they were. This one gives the whole sword-and-sandal genre a good nose-tweaking, and it’s just well-produced enough so that it does a good job of it. Perhaps my favorite scene is the battle with the Siamese Cyclops, which were played by a set of twins, which is an interesting if unnecessary gimmick, since the makeup is so heavy that it wouldn’t matter if they were really twins or not.

Scrappy’s Ghost Story (1935)

Article 3258 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-21-2010
Posting Date: 7-16-2010
Directed by Manny Gould and Ben Harrison
Voice actors unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Animated ghost musical

Scrappy tries to scare his little brother by telling a ghost story. They soon find themselves haunted by ghosts in a spooky forest.

This is an okay, very mildly scary musical cartoon from the Charles Mintz studio; it’s something like the various skeleton cartoons, only with ghosts. It’s emphasizing the music more than the scares, but it’s well animated, though it isn’t particularly funny. I found this one on Youtube, which has of late proved to be a source for a number of things I’ve found.

Theater of Blood (1973)

Article 3257 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-20-2010
Posting Date: 7-15-2010
Directed by Douglas Hickox
Featuring Vincent Price, Diana Rigg, Ian Hendry
Country: UK
What it is: Shakespearean revenge flick

When members of a Critics’ Circle are being murdered one by one in gruesome ways, the evidence points to a spurned Shakespearean actor who was denied an actor-of-the-year award by the Circle. However, the actor was supposed to have died by suicide… or did he?

This wasn’t Price’s final horror movie, but it was his last starring role in a horror movie that really mattered. It’s often praised as the pinnacle of his horror career, maybe so much so that I always find myself a hair more disappointed at it then I feel I should be. The basic story itself is a reworking of THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES; once again, a man believed dead takes revenge on his enemies (those responsible for the death of his wife in the earlier movie, and for the death of his career in this one) who uses a set group of murder methods to do away with his victims (the plagues of the pharaohs in PHIBES, the murders in the last season of his Shakespeare productions in this one). One of the big differences is that this movie gives Price a character which, by dint of being an actor, allows him to play a greater variety and range of characters than the Phibes movie could, allowing Price to really shine in that capacity. The movie also tones down the campy elements of the Phibes movie, though it doesn’t abandon them entirely. However, what this movie lacks is a director like Robert Fuest, whose sense of style and fun brings the earlier movie to life; Douglas Hickox does all right, but he doesn’t come across as inspired. In the end, I just don’t have as much fun with this movie, and I tend to notice the problems more; the fencing sequence has never worked for me because it seems painfully obvious that there’s a stand-in for Price, and the police, though superficially seeming far more competent than the ones in PHIBES by dint of not being played as comic buffoons, actually seem to do a far worse job of protecting the critics. In short, while I still respect this movie and Price’s performance in it, in the end, I’d opt for the Phibes movies.

Une fee… pas comme les autres (1956)

aka The Secret of Magic Island
Article 3256 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-19-2010
Posting Date: 7-14-2010
Directed by Jean Tourane
Voices unknown
Country: Italy/France
What it is: Bizarre children’s movie

An evil monkey infiltrates a carnival so he can sneak into a village and steal their treasure – a magic wand.

I’ve been dying to see this movie ever since I stumbled across a trailer of it. Once it popped up on my hunt list, it proved near impossible to find, but it finally turned up, albeit dubbed into Swedish. It’s a children’s movie with a gimmick, and that gimmick is that the cast is made up entirely of animals who, according to the ads “think they’re people”. So what you get are scenes of animals doing things that they don’t usually do; you see dogs tending bar, pigs using a bandsaw, frogs driving motorcycles, ducks driving trains and cars, dogs playing the organ, ducks shooting pool… you get the idea. The narrators tell the story, but with this sort of thing, the story is secondary; the attraction is the animal footage. Some of it gets really strange; there’s something truly unsettling about seeing a rabbit smoking a cigarette, or a fox giving a shampoo to a chicken. It’s the sort of movie where a critique is rather pointless; you’ll either find the gimmick irresistible or you won’t. Still, it does get old after a while, even with a running time of about an hour. At the very least, the movie is one of a kind.

Prom Night (1980)

Article 3255 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-18-2010
Posting Date: 7-13-2010
Directed by Paul Lynch
Featuring Leslie Nielsen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Casey Stevens
Country: Canada
What it is: Slasher movie

When a children’s game goes awry and causes the death of one of the players, the other four, fearful they may go to jail, make a pact to keep it a secret. Several years later, the children have become teenagers and are attending the prom. However, there is a maniac on the loose who knows of the accident and who has targeted them for death…

The opening scene with the children’s game is fairly decent, and the initial premise that drives the plot at the beginning is also not bad. Unfortunately, the movie gets caught up in too many subplots, red herrings, and extraneous characters, so that the killings don’t start until two-thirds of the movie have passed. From then on, it’s the usual compendium of slasher cliches, further marred by the fact that much of the action is too dark to make out. All in all, it’s just another slasher film.