Spell of Evil (1973)

Feature length TV episode
Article 3431 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-26-2010
Posting Date: 1-5-2010
Directed by John Sichel
Featuring Diane Cilento, Edward de Souza, Jennifer Daniel
Country: UK
What it is: Witch story

A banker gets married to a mysterious woman who turns out to be a witch… and is after his money.

At its best, the British TV series “Thriller” gave us interesting and offbeat stories; at its worst, the stories were obvious and slow-moving. This is one of the latter; I’ve seen the basic premise several times before, and the low-budget TV production and dull direction do little to enliven the story. However, I do find it fortunate that I picked up a complete collection of the series when the opportunity arose; it looks like quite a few of these are popping up on my hunt list, and it’s handy not to hunt all over for them.

Snowbeast (1977)

Article 3430 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-25-2010
Posting Date: 1-4-2011
Directed by Herb Wallerstein
Featuring Bo Svenson, Yvette Mimieux, Robert Logan
Country: USA
What it is: Killer bigfoot movie

A skiing resort is terrorized by a vicious bigfoot-style creature.

I wouldn’t exactly describe this made-for-TV movie as awful, but it’s one of those movies where you just can’t escape the fact that it lifts most of its plot from JAWS. Furthermore, it handles those plot elements in a perfunctory fashion; the subplot about the ski lodge fearing to lose business during its winter festival is thrown into the story and proceeds to have no impact on it, as does the plot element of the killing of the wrong animal and passing it off as the creature. The only thing that doesn’t seem derived from JAWS is a romantic triangle subplot that is unimaginatively handled and itself a bit of a cliche. As a result, I get the sense that it was written on automatic, and the direction certainly doesn’t add anything special either. In short, this is routine and uninspired.

Slave of the Cannibal God (1978)

aka La montagna del dio cannibale
Article 3429 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-24-2010
Posting Date: 1-3-2010
Directed by Sergo Martino
Featuring Ursula Andress, Stacy Keach, Claudio Cassinnelli
Country: Italy
What it is: Italian cannibal flick

A woman organizes an expedition into forbidden territory to find her missing husband. However, the territory is the home of cannibals.

My version of the movie runs only 82 minutes, which is even shorter than the 86 minutes R-rated version, according to IMDB. The longest version runs 103 minutes. There doesn’t seem to be much missing plotwise, so I can only assume that I’m missing much of the gross-out footage and animal killing footage. I can spot some of the moments where the footage would belong, such as the moment when the cannibals feast on the remains of one of the dead expedition members; there’s obviously some detail missing. Maybe it’s just as well; gross-out for the sake of gross-out is not really my bag, and though the human killings are faked, the animal killings were not, and there’s at least one notorious scene in which a monkey is killed by a boa constrictor that I’d rather not see, especially as there is evidence that suggests that the filmmakers actually threw the monkey to his certain death. The plot isn’t much; it’s your basic Double-Stuffed Safari-o with animal killing footage substituted for stock footage, though there is at least one unexpected plot twist where we discover that one character’s motivations aren’t quite altruistic. The presence of Ursula Andress as the film’s star also gives a hint that the ending may not be as nihilistic as some of the more extreme Italian cannibal films.

The Amazing Captain Nemo (1978)

aka The Return of Captain Nemo
Article 3428 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-23-2010
Posting Date: 1-2-2011
Directed by Alex March and Paul Stader
Featuring Jose Ferrer, Burgess Meredith, Mel Ferrer
Country: USA
What it is: Underwater Sci-Fi, Irwin Allen style

Captain Nemo is revived from suspended animation, and with the aid of his submarine, the Nautilus, he helps the U.S. government to do battle with an evil super-genius named Professor Cunningham and his submarine, the Raven.

I ran into some contradictory descriptions of what this movie actually was, but it looks like it was designed as a three episode pilot for a prospective series that was then edited into a movie, and that’s pretty much how it feels and looks. I didn’t see Irwin Allen’s name on the credits, but I certainly wasn’t surprised to discover he was executive producer; between the silly melodramatics and the eye candy, he’s got his fingerprints all over it. I’ve never seen a movie before that had both Jose Ferrer and Mel Ferrer together, and I was quite surprised to discover that they were not related; nevertheless, I had a little fun watching the two actors pair off in a duel. The most interesting performance is from Burgess Meredith, who vacillates between intriguingly offbeat (his supervillain chews on his glasses and is far more rumpled than any self-respecting supervillain should be) and scenery-chewing melodramatics (especially when his dialogue calls for it). He even references one of his episodes from “The Twilight Zone” at one point. Overall, it’s fun if rather stupid, but as a TV series, it would have gotten old very quickly. IMDB credits 8 writers, including the obvious Jules Verne and the surprising Robert Bloch.

Shanks (1974)

SHANKS (1974)
Article 3427 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-22-2010
Posting Date: 1-1-2011
Directed by William Castle
Featuring Marcel Marceau, Tsilla Chelton, Philippe Clay
Country: USA
What it is: Very strange horror fantasy

A mute puppeteer is hired as an assistant to a scientist who has learned how to animate the dead. When the scientist dies, and the puppeteer finds himself at the mercy of his own abusive family, he uses his new knowledge and his puppetry skills to regain control of his life.

This was William Castle’s last directorial effort (though he would go on to produce BUG), and he couldn’t have gone out on a stranger note. The movie is an intriguing but uneven mixture of horror, fantasy, fairy tale, mime and silent movie pastiche; in fact, the silent movie influence is so strong that it’s quite jarring whenever a character speaks. Marceau not only plays two roles, but he served as choreographer as well; the humans who become living puppets have obviously been trained well. The novelty value of this one is enormous, and the casting of Marceau is obviously much more than a gimmick. However, the movie doesn’t quite capture that fairy tale quality that it aspires to, and the direction isn’t quite strong enough to bring some of the duller sequences to life. Still, there’s nothing else like it out there, and is worth catching at least once.

The Death Ray Mirror of Dr. Mabuse (1964)

aka The Secret of Dr. Mabuse, Die Todesstrahlen des Dr. Mabuse
Article 3426 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-21-2010
Posting Date: 12-31-2010
Directed by Hugo Fregonese and Victor De Santis
Featuring Peter van Eyck, O.E.Hasse, Yvonne Furneaux
Country: West Germany / France / Italy
What it is: Mabuse in decline

An espionage agent of the Secret Service is sent to prevent a death ray from falling into the hands of arch-criminal Dr. Mabuse.

This was the final movie of the series of Dr. Mabuse movies from the early sixties, and it is generally considered the worst. I think if you’d wanted a clue that the series was going downhill, you need look no further than the title; the death ray is perhaps the most hackneyed of superweapons, and the fact that this series resorts to its use marks a real lack of imagination. Of course, the decline of the series was inevitable; once the popularity of the James Bond movies had established itself, I would imagine that any series that lent itself to that approach would succumb to being retooled as faux Bond, and sure enough, that’s what we have here. The story is weak and confusing, and lacks any of the charm and imagination of the earlier Mabuse films. For that matter, Mabuse is hardly in it. No wonder the series ended here.

Raise the Titanic (1980)

Article 3425 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-20-2010
Posting Date: 12-30-2010
Directed by Jerry Jameson
Featuring Jason Robards, Richard Jordan, David Selby
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Adventure thriller

A new defensive device requires a very rare radioactive element that was only known to exist in a mine that has been stripped dry. The element is traced to a box that was in the hold of the Titanic on its maiden voyage. An expedition is sent out to raise the sunken ship.

If this movie works at all, I place the credit on the premise itself; the idea of finding and raising the Titanic is novel enough to hold the interest. The special effects aren’t bad; I especially like the moment when the ship actually does come to the ocean surface. Sadly, almost everything else falls flat; the international espionage is uninvolving, the characters are dull, the human conflict is trite, and the overall direction fails to add any suspense or excitement to the story. The best performance comes from an all-too-short appearance by Alec Guinness as a survivor of the original sinking.

The Man Who Wagged His Tail (1957)

aka Un angelo e sceso e Brooklyn
Article 3424 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-19-2010
Posting Date: 12-29-2010
Directed by Ladislao Vajda
Featuring Peter Ustinov, Pablito Calvo, Aroldo Tieri
Country: Italy / Spain
What it is: Transformation fantasy

When a cold-hearted landlord earns the enmity of his tenants by knocking down a young boy, a beggar with magical powers transforms him into a dog until someone grows to love him.

The “reformation of a scoundrel” is probably one of the most common story arcs in fantasy cinema, with A CHRISTMAS CAROL being only the most famous example. Peter Ustinov plays the reprobate who needs to be taught a lesson, and though he does a fine job, the movie is stolen by Caligula the dog, who shares with Ustinov the title role. The dog has some of the most expressive eyes I’ve ever seen on an animal actor, and it is this performance that really draws us in and makes us care about the fate of the characters. The interesting milieu is also a strong point; Brooklyn is portrayed as a veritable melting pot of immigrants from other countries, and it gives the movie a really nice flavor. My favorite scenes include the dog having to perform an act which on the surface seems horrible but in truth is meant to save a woman from making a bad decision, the dog’s final act of bravery, and the last scene in the movie, which I won’t give away other than to say that it involves one character convincing another of something unbelievable. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a good one, and quite enjoyable.

Once Before I Die (1966)

Article 3423 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-18-2010
Posting Date: 12-28-2010
Directed by John Derek
Featuring Ursula Andress, John Derek, Richard Jaeckel
Country: USA / Philippines
What it is: Oddball war movie

A group of soldiers in the Philippines are caught off guard by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and make a journey across the island, bringing with them a beautiful woman.

As a director, John Derek seems to be mostly known for his movies designed to show off the body of his wife Bo Derek; he gave us stuff like TARZAN THE APE MAN, BOLERO, and GHOSTS CAN’T DO IT. This is probably his best movie, though that doesn’t mean it’s particularly good; it is rather offbeat, though. Granted, it is a vehicle for one of his earlier wives, Ursula Andress, and it seems to revolve around her, which is unfortunate; she seems lost and characterless throughout. That’s probably why the movie is stolen by Richard Jaeckel, who plays Lieutenant Custer, who, unlike his historical namesake, shaves his head; he is the only actor here who really seems to be committed to bringing his role to life.

Now the big question here is – why am I covering this movie? It’s listed in John Stanley’s “Creature Features Movie Guide Strikes Again”, and his justification for it is the Andress is the “angel of death” because every man she kisses dies. Maybe so, but the movie never once makes that explicit or even really drops hints; it’s just one way to interpret the events on the screen, and I personally think this movie doesn’t qualify in its fantastic content. Still, at least it gives me another John Derek movie to compare with before my inevitable encounters with TARZAN THE APE MAN and GHOSTS CAN’T DO IT.

Prey (1978)

PREY (1978)
aka Alien Prey
Article 3422 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-17-2010
Posting Date: 12-27-2010
Directed by Norman J. Warren
Featuring Barry Stokes, Sally Faulkner, Glory Annen
Country: UK
What it is: Science fiction and exploitation

Two lesbians allow a wandering stranger to spend a few days at their isolated country home unaware that he is actually a murderous alien humanoid.

If the IMDB ratings are to be given any credence, this is Norman J. Warren’s best movie. Maybe it is; it’s better than the pointless OUTER TOUCH and the mostly dull SATAN’S SLAVE, the only other two movies of his I’ve seen. On the plus side, it has a pretty bizarre premise, it does more with the lesbian angle than just throw in some softcore sex (though it’s not above that by any means), and at least it doesn’t feel like a rehash of something else. It does feel contrived, however; the lesbian soap opera of the two women (one of whom is domineering and possibly insane) and the alien’s mission to study humanity to discover if they’re suitable (you’ll find out for what at the end, but you won’t be surprised) never really combine into a whole, and the movie feels forced. Furthermore, there are some really tiresome scenes (the endless slow-motion sequence where the women try to rescue the alien from drowning in a muddy lake comes to mind), and the characters, not very pleasant to begin with, just get worse as the movie continues. I suspect the movie was originally conceived as straight exploitation with the science fiction angle tossed in at the last minute. Just because it’s Warren’s best movie doesn’t mean it’s good.