The Vampire Happening (1971)

aka Gebissen wird nur nachts

Article 3668 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-15-2011
Posting Date: 8-30-2011
Directed by Freddie Francis
Featuring Pia Degermark, Thomas Hunter, Yvor Murillo
Country: West Germany
What it is: Vampire comedy

An American actress inherits a castle and becomes baroness. While at the castle, she opens the tomb of her great-grandmother, who is not only the spitting image of the actress, but a vampire as well. Complications ensue.

This movie does have a certain amount of surreal imagery to give it flavor, and those who like lots of sex and nudity with their vampire flicks will find it more than satisfying. Me, I found it really hard to get past the fact that I found it thoroughly unfunny; with the exception of one line from Dracula (played by Ferdy Mayne) which references a well known horror actor, I didn’t laugh once, and I found the movie as a whole (a sort of psychedelic variation on THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS) to be tiresome. Granted, most of the actors have been dubbed, and sometimes humor doesn’t survive the translation, but I doubt that subtitles would have made it any funnier. This is not my favorite vampire comedy by a long shot.


Dr. Satan (1966)

DR. SATAN (1966)
Article 3667 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-14-2011
Posting Date: 8-29-2011
Directed by Miguel Morayta
Featuring Joaquin Cordero, Alma Delia Fuentes, Jose Galvez
Country: Mexico
What it is: Supernatural crime story

Interpol is on the trail of a criminal who uses zombies to help him in his crimes.

My copy of this movie is in unsubtitled Spanish, so my review is based on what I was able to get out of its visual qualities and whatever else I could pick up. One thing I will say; when the movie goes for horror atmosphere, it works very well indeed, especially in the foggy opening sequence where a man on the street is attacked by Dr. Satan and his zombie minions. And for those who have only experienced how Mexico handles devils through the appearance of one in the silly SANTA CLAUS, it’s worth checking out how effectively the appearances of the devil work in this one, with the character having large clear wings and a face hidden by darkness. I can also tell that Joaquin Cordero, who plays the title character, is doing an excellent job, underplaying to nice effect. The subtleties of the story escape me, but it seems mostly centered on the attempts of Interpol to track him down and catch him. Overall, the movie looks quite entertaining, and its rating of 8.1 on IMDB seems to indicate that it is well regarded among Mexican horror fans. I hope to see it with subtitles someday.

The Undertaker and His Pals (1966)

Article 3666 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-13-2011
Posting Date: 8-28-2011
Directed by T.L.P. Swicegood
Featuring Ray Dannis, Warrene Ott, James Westmoreland
Country: USA
What it is: Gore comedy

An undertaker and two restaurant workers combine forces to increase business. They form a biker gang that goes out and mutilates people, and then the undertaker gets the burial business while the restaurant workers use parts of the victims in their meat dishes.

According to IMDB, this movie got banned from a number of theaters until it was edited down to its present 63 minute length. In this form, it seems a little tamer than the usual Herschell Gordon Lewis movie of the period, and it’s more overtly comic. It’s bad, but it’s not quite as bad as I expected; some of the comedy works well enough to get by. Granted, it’s played a little too broad, but the undertaker’s business tricks are amusing; he charges a ridiculously low price and then ups the price with “extras”, and he also gives green stamps (seeing what his bare-bones funeral is like is a highlight). The acting is better than expected as well, though I’d hardly call it good. Yes, it’s tasteless and often stupid, but that’s no surprise. I’ve seen far worse.

The Return of Chandu (1934)

Feature version of the serial THE RETURN OF CHANDU
Article 3665 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-12-2011
Posting Date: 8-27-2011
Directed by Ray Taylor
Featuring Bela Lugosi, Maria Alba, Lucien Prival
Country: USA
What it is: Mystic powers melodrama

Frank Chandler (aka Chandu) must use all of his magic powers to save an Egyptian princess from being sacrificed by the cult of Ubasti.

You can’t really judge this “feature version of a serial” along the same lines as many of the others; unlike a lot of them, the serial was actually shot so that the first four episodes could be easily edited together as a self-contained feature, which gave the distributors options on how they could market the story. As a result, the movie doesn’t have that jagged feel I’ve come to expect from the form; it flows smoothly and coherently. It is, however, a bit static and creaky. Nevertheless, I really noticed how much Lugosi’s performance in the title role makes it all work; he gives his character so much conviction that you just enjoy seeing him at work. Having seen both the serial and the two features culled from it, I’d have to say that the features are preferable in this case; the serial itself gets rather repetitive during the middle sections.

It’s a Gift (1923)

IT’S A GIFT (1923)

Article 3664 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-11-2011
Posting Date: 8-26-2011
Directed by Hugh Fay
Featuring Snub Pollard, Marie Mosquini, William Gillespie
Country: USA
What it is: Silent comedy

An inventor is invited to demonstrate his new powerful gasoline substitute.

This is an energetic and fun silent comedy. The first half mostly deals with the various gadgets Pollard uses to help him serve himself breakfast him bed; he uses a series of pull-strings that light stoves, make coffee, and coax chickens to lay eggs. The real fun begins when we discover how our inventor gets around town; he tools around in a motorless bullet-shaped vehicle that is propelled by a magnet he holds out to follow other vehicles. This is the funniest sequence in the movie, but it will leave you wondering why, if he’s invented a super fuel, why doesn’t he use it? The answer makes for the climax of the short. This one is highly amusing.

They Came from Beyond Space (1967)

Article 3663 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-10-2011
Posting Date: 8-25-2011
Directed by Freddie Francis
Featuring Robert Hutton, Jennifer Jayne, Zia Mohyeddin
Country: UK
What it is: Space invaders

A researcher in life on other planets wants to take part in the investigation of a series of meteors that landed on a farm, but is told that he can’t due to the plate in his head. When he loses contact with the female assistant he sends in his place (also the woman he loves), he decides to investigate himself. He discovers that the meteors contain alien intelligences who have taken over the bodies of Earth people, but he is immune due to his plate. Can he find out what they’re up to?

When I first saw this movie years ago, the biggest impression it left with me was how thuddingly dull it was. You wouldn’t think this would be the case; the plot is sort of a cross between QUATERMASS II and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, but it lacks the intelligence or eeriness of either of these two movies. In fact, the movie feels slapdash and thrown together, as if to fill the bottom of half a double bill somewhere. The story mostly relies on coincidences and cliched situations (when will screenwriters learn that if a person goes to a certain place to find a person they met there before, and is told by the people that are there that such a person never was there, this will only make the first person more suspicious), and often the movie will be exceedingly mysterious about things it would have best to have been told at the outset while giving away other secrets it would have been best to save towards the end. It fails to build an iota of suspense or mystery, much of the story is wildly illogical, and those waiting for Michael Gough to show up and add some zest to the proceedings will not only have a very long wait, but will find he’s been given the worst dialogue in the movie. This is another one of Amicus’s non-anthology movies, and it may be their worst.

Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

aka Mekagojira no gyakushu

Article 3662 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-9-2011
Posting Date: 8-24-2011
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Featuring Katsuhiko Sasaki, Tomoko Ai, Akihiko Hirata
Country: Japan
What it is: Godzilla movie

Space aliens planning on taking over the Earth team up with an embittered Earth scientist who has the ability to control a giant dinosaur called Titanasaurus. The aliens have also reconstructed Mechagodzilla to help them in their conquest. Can Godzilla defeat these foes?

This was the last of the original run of Godzilla movies, though not the last I will cover, as I have a few earlier ones to review yet. For my money, the last couple of movies were a bit of a rebound from the previous two, but only a bit; their main advantage is that Mechagodzilla is a truly memorable creation. Unfortunately, the storyline once again involves invading space aliens; most of the Godzilla movies from DESTROY ALL MONSTERS onward used this plot. It’s nice to see the original director Ishiro Honda return, but it’s obvious that the movie was cheaply made; it’s muddled and confusing at times. Still, it’s interesting that Godzilla has no tag team partner to help him with the enemies this time (maybe they were afraid of ending up with another King Cisar), and the movie has a real somber tone to it. I suspect that the movie wasn’t planned to be the last one in the series; it just was.

Strange Invaders (1983)

Article 3661 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-8-2011
Posting Date: 8-23-2011
Directed by Michael Laughlin
Featuring Paul Le Mat, Nancy Allen, Diana Scarwid
Country: USA
What it is: The Aliens are among us

When his ex-wife vanishes after leaving their daughter in his care, a professor decides to visit his ex-wife’s hometown to look for her. Everyone in the town is slightly hostile and no one claims to know his wife. When he is prevented from leaving town and his car is destroyed, he begins to realize that the town is populated by space aliens.

When I first saw the movie years ago, a big deal was made about it being a homage to the science fiction movies from the fifties. I was disappointed with it then, largely because it lacked that certain vibe I get from science fiction movies from that era; it feels too much like an eighties movie. In terms of plot elements, one can draw parallels; though I hear INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS mentioned a lot in comparison with this one, I think it would be closer to say that it’s a reworking of I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE, one in which the marriage actually resulted in a child (and the movie is enough like a fifties movie to leave the details of that transaction to your imagination). Watching it again, I still feel somewhat dissatisfied; I think the main problem I have is that the movie doesn’t seem to know what effect it’s trying for. It tries to be funny, scary, suspenseful, mysterious, and have a sense of wonder, but it does all of these things only slightly, and the overall effect is rather bland. My favorite performance comes from Kenneth Tobey as the leader of the aliens, though I also like Michael Lerner as an asylum resident who also had an encounter with the aliens. All in all, I thought it was a nice try, but it doesn’t really work.

Son of Dracula (1974)

Article 3660 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-7-2011
Posting Date: 8-22-2011
Directed by Freddie Francis
Featuring Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr, Dennis Price
Country: UK
What it is: Odd horror musical

The Son of Count Dracula is slated to become King of the Netherworld, but there’s a problem; he wants to give up his vampiric ways and become human.

I once put forth the theory that any movie that features the character of Merlin the Magician that does not also feature the character of King Arthur is going to be awful. Of those that I’ve seen, this is the movie that comes closest to proving me wrong; the movie is not what I’d call “good”, but it’s not quite awful. The problem is that it’s such a curious and odd movie that I’m not quite sure what I think of it. It was produced by Ringo Starr (who plays Merlin) and stars rock star Harry Nilsson in the title role. Nilsson’s performance is not awful, but it seems obvious that he’s not an actor, and this shows especially when he shares the scene with the likes of Dennis Price or Freddie Jones. Ringo actually does okay as Merlin; despite the stereotypical wizard costume, he plays the character fairly straight. The cast also features Keith Moon, Peter Frampton, Leon Russell, Klaus Voorman and John Bonham, but they essentially play members of Nilsson’s band and only perform as musicians. The story weaves in Dr. Frankenstein, Van Helsing, a werewolf, the Frankenstein monster, and a mummy into the plot. It’s not scary, but it’s not really trying to be, and though I’ve heard it described as a comedy, it’s not particularly funny, either. However, the music is very good, and perhaps that’s why, whenever the plot comes to a standstill for another song, it doesn’t bother me. According to IMDB, David Bowie was originally considered for the Nilsson role; I wonder how different the movie would have ended up in that case.

Seizure (1974)

SEIZURE (1974)
Article 3659 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-6-2011
Posting Date: 8-21-2011
Directed by Oliver Stone
Featuring Jonathan Frid, Martine Beswick, Joseph Sirola
Country: Canada / USA
What it is: One man’s nightmare

A horror writer discovers that three of his creations have come to vivid life… and are holding him, his family and some houseguests as prisoners with the intent of leaving only one of them alive.

Ever wonder who would win in a battle to the death between Jonathan Frid and Mary Woronov? Or who would win in a battle between Jonathan Frid and Herve Villichaize? Well, this movie gives us a chance to see how Oliver Stone sees these battles playing out; it was his first full-length movie as a director and a writer. I’ve heard it described as incoherent, but once you realize that the nightmarish scenario is really only directed at a single person, the movie doesn’t seem quite that impenetrable. The cast also features Martine Beswick as the Queen of Evil and Troy Donahue as one of the guests, but the performance I liked best came from the lesser-known Roger De Koven, whose philosophical musings on the situation at hand really give the movie some depth; my favorite scene has him discussing the nature of the three evil menaces (a sinister midget, a beautiful but deadly woman and a large black executioner) in terms of their historical sources. The movie isn’t great, but it’s got some interesting touches, and it’s nice to see that Stone tried at least a little to alleviate the groan factor of a cliched ending that I saw coming at about the halfway point in the movie; after all, once you figure out what it is, you have a really good idea where it’s going.