Monster a-Go Go (1965)

Article 3393 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-16-2010
Posting Date: 11-28-2010
Directed by Bill Rebane and Herschell Gordon Lewis
Country: USA
What it is: Seventy minutes of footage

A capsule lands. A radioactive monster who was once an astronaut comes out. People die. People investigate. People dance. A car runs out of gas. Movie is padded out to feature length.

No movie this static and lifeless should have the words “A-GO GO” in its title. This movie was originally directed by Bill Rebane in the early sixties but was abandoned when funding ran out. Several years later, Herschell Gordon Lewis bought the existing footage, and then added new footage of his own so he’d have a companion feature to MOONSHINE MOUNTAIN. My guess is that this is one of these two directors’ worst movie and the other’s second worst. For what it’s worth, Lewis does seem to make his new footage blend in with the old footage, but that’s no compliment; however, since he couldn’t get the original cast for his new scenes, the movie still comes across as disjointed and unfocused. It’s shot in a flat distant style, the sound is bad, the narration is ill-timed, intrusive, and gives away the important things that will happen in scenes before they happen, there are a wealth of pointless scenes that go nowhere, huge gaps exist between line deliveries… all these things conspire to drive viewer interest away at every moment. I’ve heard some people say the ending is clever, but I interpret it as meaning that Lewis got tired of even trying to finish the movie and came up with it as a way to get it off his plate; to me, it’s the movie thumbing its nose at the audience. I wonder how soon the drive-ins cleared out after this movie started.


The Million Dollar Duck (1971)

Article 3392 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-15-2010
Posting Date: 11-27-2010
Directed by Vincent McEveety
Featuring Dean Jones, Sandy Duncan, Joe Flynn
Country: USA
What it is: Shopping cart movie

An experimental scientist takes home a duck from the lab after it fails every experiment and becomes irradiated. They discover that the duck lays eggs with golden yolks when barked at by dogs. Will greed cause them to lose their humanity?

According to IMDB, this movie shares the dubious distinction of being one of the only three movies Gene Siskel walked out on during his movie review career. So how awful is it? It’s not near as awful as that trivia seems to imply, but it does mark a low point of the Disney shopping cart movies, as I call them. These Disney comedies always flirted with silliness, stupidity and contrived situations, but this one falls in. All of the major characters act like idiots (except the little boy, whose main function is to tug on the heartstrings), the whole setup is incredibly contrived, and most of the jokes are pretty lame. Still, I think one of the more subtle problems is that the concept itself doesn’t lend itself to clever special effects, which is one of the big attractions of these Disney comedies, thus making the movie a little disappointing from the outset. On the plus side, the cast is appealing (especially Dean Jones and Sandy Duncan), but you’re all too aware that they are playing roles that are beneath their abilities.

Maneater of Hydra (1967)

aka La isla de la muerte
Article 3391 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-14-2010
Posting Date: 11-26-2010
Directed by Mel Welles
Featuring Cameron Mitchell, George Martin, Elisa Montes
Country: Spain / West Germany
What it is: An old dark greenhouse movie

Tourists arrive on an island inhabited by a Baron who experiments with horticulture. People start dying, and their bodies are drained of blood. Who or what is the killer?

Though in some ways it’s structured like a mystery, the tagline (which I won’t mention here) pretty much gives away the revelation, but given what you find out early in the movie, you won’t be surprised. Suffice it to say that it’s not a mystery; it’s just a good old-fashioned monster movie. It’s cheesy, cheap-looking, and silly, but the presence of Cameron Mitchell adds a bit of fun, and it’s watchable enough in its low-budget way. It would make a good double feature with CASTLE OF EVIL.

A Killer in Every Corner (1974)

Movie-length TV episode
Article 3390 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-13-2010
Posting Date: 11-25-2010
Directed by Malcolm Taylor
Featuring Joanna Pettet, Patrick Magee, Max Wall
Country: UK
What it is: Psychos and mad scientists

Three students are allowed to visit the home and laboratory of the renowned behavioral psychologist Professor Marcus Carnaby. What they don’t know is that they are actually there to be subjects in Carnaby’s experiments to see if his techniques have managed to cure three of his patients of their homicidal tendencies…

This is another episode of the British TV series “Thriller”, and I’d rate it as one of the best episodes I’ve seen. Part of the reason is Patrick Magee’s excellent performance as Carnaby, but the interesting story line also is a plus, and all the performances are very good. It was entertaining enough that it kept me from anticipating a twist that I should have seen coming, but I think that’s a sign that the story is working. Its worst problem may be that the ending feels a little too rushed and abrupt; I, for one, would like to find out what the fate was of a couple of the characters, but there probably simply wasn’t time to include it.

Jungle Hell (1956)

Article 3389 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-12-2010
Posting Date: 1-24-2010
Directed by Norman A. Cerf
Featuring Sabu, K.T. Stevens, David Bruce
Country: USA
What it is: Jungle hell

There’s these flying saucers, see? And they bring these radioactive rocks and control tigers and elephants. The local shaman has a rock, but scientists are interested in it, as well as elephant hunters. And there’s these elephants, and… Ahh, let’s stop pretending that this movie has a plot.

Those of you who have followed my series for some time probably recall my discussion of the “Double-Stuffed Safari-O”; those are jungle movies that open with exposition, end with denouement, and are filled in the center with an overly generous helping of safari. Generally, the term is not used in a complimentary sense, but after seeing this aptly-named mess of a movie, I grew to appreciate at least one thing about Double-Stuffed Safari-Os; they have a structure and a story, whereas this movie seems to have neither. If you watch it, I hope you like elephants; nearly twenty percent of the footage in this movie involves these pachyderms (and I know because I timed it), and since none were used in the footage originally shot for this movie, it’s all stock footage. Furthermore, it probably only accounts for about forty percent of the stock footage in the movie; between the stock footage of other animals, airplanes, buildings from Bagdad, London and New York, etc… I’d have to say that a good half of this movie is made up of stock footage. The remaining thirty-seven minutes consist mostly of actors wandering through a backlot jungle and staring at whatever the stock footage is showing. There’s an occasional shot of a flying saucer hovering in limbo; in fact, it feels as if the whole flying saucer aspect of the movie was tacked on at the last minute to turn the movie into science fiction, as little mention is made of the saucers anywhere but in the opening and closing narrations. If there is a plot, it’s mostly about rock-hunting.

In short, this is a nearly unwatchable mess of a jungle movie. If you do choose to watch, I hope you like elephants.

Jaws 2 (1978)

JAWS 2 (1978)
Article 3388 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-11-2010
Posting Date: 11-23-2010
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc
Featurng Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton
Country: USA
What it is: Sequel

Once again, the town of Amity is plagued by a giant shark. Once again, police chief Brody can’t convince the mayor to do anything about it. Once again, people die. Brody must fight the shark, but this time, he must do it alone.

I actually saw this one in the theater without ever having seen the original, and I thought it was an okay thriller. I still think it’s an okay thriller, but now that I’ve seen the original, I can understand a) just how derivative it is, and b) just how much it falls short. Without a director of the calibre of Steven Spielberg at the helm, the movie never rises above the ordinary, though I will give credit to Roy Scheider for really giving it his all. I really miss Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw (though I wouldn’t expect the latter to have appeared anyway), and one problem is that this movie does nothing to fill in those gaps. Furthermore, this movie largely lacks the sense of humor that helped make the original special. And watching this movie this time around, I grew to really appreciate one aspect of the original, and that was how that movie gave us a tense nail-biting climax that did not involve teenagers screaming at each other constantly.

In Search of Ancient Astronauts (1973)

Article 3387 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-10-2010
Posting Date: 11-22-2010
Directed by Harold Reinl
Featuring the voice of Rod Serling
Country: USA / West Germany
What it is: Speculative documentary

The movie examines evidence of the possibility of visitation by extraterrestrials in ancient history.

Why does this movie leave me with such a vivid sense of deja vu? Is it possible it may have tapped into ancestral memories of the visits of ancient astronauts? Or is it more likely that I just saw CHARIOTS OF THE GODS about a month ago, from which this movie pillages most of its footage. The differences are 1) it only includes about half of the original movie, 2) the narration was replaced by new narration by Rod Serling, and 3) a handful of interviews was added to the mix. As a result, the movie is shorter and isn’t quite as insistent as the original movie; the additional interviews really add little to the mix, except perhaps the final one by Carl Sagan, who ends the movie telling us that there is not a “smidgen of compelling evidence” for the visitation of space aliens in ancient times. Still, I can’t help but comment on the fact in that last month, there has been a surprising number of articles by military men talking about UFO encounters, and the UN has named a Malaysian astrophysicist to be the first ambassador to space aliens, and these reports are being taken seriously by the press. Somehow, it made the documentary seem just a bit more relevant.

I, Desire (1982)

I, DESIRE (1982)
aka Desire, the Vampire
Article 3386 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-9-2010
Posting Date: 11-21-2010
Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey
Featuring David Naughton, Dorian Harewood, Marilyn Jones
Country: USA
What it is: TV-Movie vampire tale

A morgue attendant is drawn into a crime investigation about bodies that have been drained of their blood. He becomes convinced that a vampire posing as a hooker is on the loose.

This was not John Llewellyn Moxey’s first cinematic venture into vampirism; he directed THE NIGHT STALKER. This movie does bear some resemblance to that earlier work, though it is not a remake; once again, we have a lone man who finds himself at odds with the authorities when he becomes convinced that a vampire is on the loose. What sets it apart is that it really delves into the emotional issues raised by believing in creatures that are dismissed by the rest of the world as imaginary; the morgue attendant’s belief isolates him, makes him the butt of jokes, alienates him from his girlfriend and the police officer investigating the case, and makes him a bit of a pariah. The curse of having to deal with these beliefs is best vocalized by the character of Paul when he says that he has “lost his innocence” with his knowledge; Paul is played by Brad Dourif, whose excellence performance steals the movie. The movie also shows some sympathy for the detective on the case; though he to suspects the truth, he can’t afford to embrace the knowledge because he knows that he has to answer to higher authorities. I also like the touches it adds to vampire mythology; if one wishes to stand up to a vampire, they must be righteous, and this fits in well with the sexual subtexts to the vampire myth, though it could be argued that the movie takes it out of subtext into text; after all, check out the name of the vampiress. I’m not quite as impressed with the vampire attack scenes; the fact that our vampiress makes jaguar sounds when she attacks is rather silly. I also notice she has several mirrors in her penthouse apartment. The ending is not quite satisfying, but this is a worthy vampire movie.

Human Feelings (1978)

Article 3385 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-8-2010
Posting Date: 11-20-2010
Directed by Ernest Pintoff
Featuring Nancy Walker, Billy Crystal, Squire Fridell
Country: USA
What it is: Angel fantasy/comedy

When God decides to destroy Las Vegas, an unhappy angel from the music department, in hopes for a promotion, asks her if she’ll spare the city if he can find six good people there. She agrees, and the angel goes to earth as a human with only seven days to perform his mission.

A couple of sources I have describe this TV-Movie as a failed pilot inspired by the theatrical success of OH, GOD!, though I would say it’s nowhere as witty as that one. Personally, I think it shows more similarity to an earlier TV-Movie called POOR DEVIL only with an angel instead of a devil (though, once again, I find it not as witty as that one). Though I do find some of the casting interesting (God is played by Nancy Walker), I find the movie suffers badly from that TV-Movie blandness that seems designed to make sure that it all goes down smoothly without a hint of indigestion. Despite the presence of Walker and Billy Crystal, I found the movie very short on laughs; the closest I found it to being funny is when Pat Morita shows up as a waiter who sees what is coming. I do wonder what the series would be like; given the end of the movie, it could either concentrate on the further adventures of God or the further adventures of the angel, though, given what I see here, I doubt either of those ideas would have resulted in a good series. Special effects are minimal; God vanishes at one point, and I think that’s about it.

Heavy Traffic (1973)

Article 3384 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-7-2010
Posting Date: 11-19-2010
Directed by Ralph Bakshi
Featuring Joseph Kaufmann, Beverly Hope Atkinson and the voice of Frank DeKova
Country: USA
What it is: Animated underground comix

A cartoonist deals with the trials and tribulations of his life by incorporating the people and incidents in his life into comics.

The two Ralph Bakshi films that I’ve already covered (WIZARDS and THE LORD OF THE RINGS) are ones where the fantastic content is fairly up front. This one is apparently based on underground comix (and I’ll confess right up front that I’m not really familiar with the form), and may be inspired by events in Bakshi’s own life; I have no proof of that last statement, but it certainly has that air about it, and I gather it may be Bakshi’s own favorite movie of his. It’s definitely not for overly sensitive viewers, as it abounds in cartoon nudity, racial stereotypes, religious themes, foul language, extreme violence… you name it, and there’s probably a moment in this movie that features it. Though the basic story is realistic, there’s fantasy all around the edges, especially in some dream sequences and a science fiction cartoon that the main character shows to a dying man. I found it interesting enough; for what it’s worth, I think Bakshi’s animation style lends itself better to this type of project than the other ones I’ve seen of his. I was fascinated by one piece of trivia I read for this one on IMDB; apparently, Bakshi got into a fight with one of his producers, who either fired or planned to fire him and wanted to hire Chuck Jones to complete the project, who declined. Somehow, the idea of Chuck Jones completing a Ralph Bakshi project is truly mind-blowing.