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.

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.