The Dark Crystal (1982)

THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982)
Article 3752 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-10-2011
Posting Date: 11-22-2011
Directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz
Featuring the talents of Jim Henson, Kathryn Mullen, Frank Oz
Country: USA / UK
What it is: Epic fantasy, Muppet style

A gelfling is sent on quest to recover the shard of a damaged crystal and to restore it when the three suns are in conjunction. However, the evil Skekses want to prevent this…

I’ve been a long fan of Jim Henson’s muppets, though over the years, I’ve come to realize that it’s with certain reservations; I much prefer the strain of anarchist absurdism that runs through them to the touches of whimsy and cuteness. This was a real departure for them, and I have a real affection for it. The story itself is standard epic fantasy fare, but the visual splendor of the art direction and the design of the many strange creatures that inhabit this world give it a real sense of magic and fantasy. The creations are most effective when they stray as far as possible from the human form; the ones that are most human (the Gelflings and Podlings) are the least effective. However, the Garthins and the Landstriders are truly amazing, the bizarre one-eyed witch Aughra makes a serviceable Yoda substitute. My favorite shots are probably the scenes of the Mystics in their painfully slow pilgrimage across the land to the crystal.

The Blue Bird (1976)

THE BLUE BIRD (1976)
Article 3751 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-9-2011
Posting Date: 11-21-2011
Directed by George Cukor
Featuring Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Fonda, Ava Gardner
Country: USA / Soviet Union
What it is: Allegorical fairy tale

Two children are sent out by Light to search for the Blue Bird of Happiness so that can give it to an ill child.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen the 1940 version of this story with Shirley Temple, but I remember not caring much for that version. I’m afraid I don’t care a whole lot for this version either. Despite having had a fairly expensive (and reportedly trouble-filled) production, it looks a lot like a photographed stage play at times, and the story itself is too steeped in allegory and messages to ever be fun or energetic. Oddly enough, I found the most striking moments to be the depressing ones, and that’s hardly a good recommendation for a children’s movie. For a fantasy, it’s singularly lacking in magic, and the movie was both a commercial and critical flop. Still, the performances are mostly decent; my favorite performance came from Ava Gardner as Luxury, while the most disappointing came from Jane Fonda, who would have been a lot more fun if she had hammed up her role as Night rather than underplaying it.

Lokis (1970)

LOKIS (1970)
aka The Bear
Article 3750 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-8-2011
Posting Date: 11-20-2011
Directed by Janusz Majewski
Featuring Jozef Duriasz, Edmund Fetting, Gustaw Lutkiewicz
Country: Poland
What it is: Shapeshifter saga

A pastor studying Lithuanian customs stays with a nobleman in order to use the rare books in his library. He learns that the nobleman’s mother is insane, and that legend has it she became that way after she was assaulted by a bear, and that her son was the result of that union, making him a werebear. Is it just a legend….?

If I were to give a thumbnail description of this movie, I’d describe it as something of a cross between a movie of Val Lewton’s and one of Corman’s Poe movies in which a young stranger visits a manor whose lord is Vincent Price. I could certainly see Price in the role of the nobleman here, and like those movies, the story is told from the point of view of the visiting stranger. And like the Lewton movie, there is a certain ambiguity about just what the truth is. I found the movie intriguing and atmospheric, but it is overlong and slow-moving. Still, there are memorable moments here; I particularly like an encounter with a witch-like character in a swamp, which eventually leads to an intriguing moment later in the movie when the nobleman, to celebrate his marriage, releases some of the animals he has in captivity. I really enjoyed this one, and will probably be watching it again at some time.

Autopsy (1975)

AUTOPSY (1975)
aka Macchie solari
Article 3749 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-7-2011
Posting Date: 11-19-2011
Directed by Armando Crispino
Featuring Mimsy Farmer, Barry Primus, Ray Lovelock
Country: Italy
What it is: Giallo

A wave of suicides, possibly caused by sunspots, runs through the country, keeping the doctors in an autopsy center very busy. A woman begins to suspect that one suicide was actually a murder, but she finds that the murderer may be much closer to her than she expects…

There are some words that, if you put them in movie titles, raise certain expectations, and the word “autopsy” is one of them; it seems to promise a certain level of gross-out. And, for a while, the movie actually manages it; with an opening that features a series of non-stop suicides and a grotesque hallucination sequence in a morgue where the bloody dead rise up, the movie does achieve that level. Eventually, though, it settles into a confusing giallo plot that ultimately tries just a bit too hard to be effective. There’s just too many sick, twisted and unhealthy characters here; even the heroine of the story seems to be one baby step away from madness, and that makes it really hard to warm up to anyone. As a result, I found myself not really caring a whole lot about the movie, despite the facts that there are some pretty odd plot twists along the way. It is stylistically interesting, and I do like it better than the other Armando Crispino movie I’ve seen for this series, THE DEAD ARE ALIVE. I just wish he’d come up with ways to get us to care about his characters.

Albino (1976)

ALBINO (1976)
Article 3748 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-6-2011
Posting Date: 11-18-2011
Directed by Jurgen Goslar
Featuring Christopher Lee, James Faulkner, Horst Frank
Country: West Germany / UK / South Africa / Zimbabwe
What it is: Revenge story

When an albino terrorist rapes and kills his fiancee, a police officer takes the law into his own hands and sets out to avenge the deed. However, his actions put him at odds with his own police force, and as he hunts the albino, the law is hunting for him…

The movie has your basic revenge story setup, and I usually find these movies to be fairly predictable in their manipulation techniques; just make the villain heinous enough, and the audience will automatically want the hero to take any action necessary to bring him to justice. Fortunately, the movie is well acted, and it adds a few other layers of complexity; the African setting and the political complications add a bit more meat to the bones of the story. The movie has some messages as well, but as always, it’s easier to send messages in works of fiction where you can stack the cards any way you want to. Still, that doesn’t mean the movie doesn’t have its uses, even if much of the mechanics of what happens is standard issue plotting. What the movie is not is a horror movie. Nonetheless, it is often mistaken for one, probably due to the fact that Christopher Lee (who plays a secondary role) is given top billing, and other than the fact that there’s a bit of talk about the albino terrorist being a witch doctor of sorts, there is no fantastic content to speak of. So, despite the areas of interest, for the purposes of this survey of fantastic films, it should be considered as another false alarm.

A Mad House (1934)

A MAD HOUSE (1934)
Animated Short
Article 3747 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-5-2011
Posting Date: 11-17-2011
Directed by Frank Moser and Paul Terry
Voice actors unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Spooky cartoon

A mad scientist in an old house full of skeletons develops an invisibility formula.

As this was a Terrytoons cartoon, I wasn’t expecting much, but it turned out to be a quite entertaining mishmash. It begins as one of those “dancing skeleton” cartoons that were pretty common at the time, then turns into a mad scientist story, and then veers into a sort of operetta in the style Jeannette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy (though it predates the team). Overall, while not a great cartoon, it does have its moments, my favorite one being the gags surrounding a skeleton taking a shower.

Trunk Crime (1939)

TRUNK CRIME (1939)
Articel 3746 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-4-2011
Posting Date: 11-16-2011
Directed by Ray Boulting
Featuring Manning Whiley, Barbara Everest, Michael Drake
Country: UK
What it is: Crime thriller

A chemistry student reaches the end of his rope when his room is wrecked by his tormentor with the help of drunken friends. The student hatches a scheme to get his revenge; he give his tormentor a drink that paralyzes him, and then locks him in a trunk with the intention of disposing it in a marshy area, thus burying his tormentor alive. However, things don’t go as smoothly as he hopes…

The notion of being buried alive is the horror element here, though the paralyzing drink may be in the realm of science fiction as well. Nonetheless, this is more of a crime thriller than a horror movie. It’s efficiently told (the movie runs about fifty minutes) and it has a nice sense of paranoid intensity, though the main character is played perhaps a touch too broadly. Some of the angled camerawork is quite striking, and there is some real suspense in the final moments when we’re not sure how it’s going to play out. However, the movie is marred by a certain awkwardness, and it has an ending that, though interesting, seems very unlikely and stretches the credibility. All in all, this one has its moments, but it doesn’t quite work.

Up to Mars (1930)

UP TO MARS (1930)
Animated short
Article 3745 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-3-2011
Posting Date: 11-15-2011
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Voice actors unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Bimbo cartoon

Bimbo gets into a tussle with a mouse, who outwits him and sends him rocketing to Mars on a fireworks rocket. There Bimbo encounters Martians.

Bimbo was the Fleischer’s star cartoon character in the period after Koko the Clown and before Betty Boop and Popeye. Though Bimbo was a fairly colorless character, he did have one really great cartoon in him (the classic BIMBO’S INITIATION, in which he is terrorized into joining a bizarre cult). This one ultimately promises more than it delivers; some of the gags look forward to CRAZY TOWN and PORKY IN WACKYLAND, but eventually the cartoon settles into a rather ordinary extended routine involving Bimbo being thrown into the Martian army and having to take part in a drill routine to music. Still, I do find it interesting that though Bimbo is your basic anthropomorphic dog, he ends up behaving like a real dog on a couple of occasions when his instinct in dealing with the drill sergeant is to bite him. All in all, this one is passable, but hardly one of the Fleischers’ best.

Secret Agent Fireball (1965)

SECRET AGENT FIREBALL (1965)
aka Le spie uccidono a Beirut
Article 3744 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-2-2011
Posting Date: 11-14-2011
Directed by Luciano Martino
Featuring Richard Harrison, Dominique Boschero, Luciano Pigozzi
Country: Italy / France
What it is: Spyghetti

Agent Bob Fleming is on the trail of a microfilm that is in the hands of a defecting Russian scientist. Can he get it before the Russians do?

The story is fast-moving, clearly told, and fairly exciting. Furthermore, the comic relief cab-driving sidekick is actually fairly amusing, even when dubbed; maybe it’s because he’s used sparingly and keeps the humor at the right level. As a result, I think this is one of the better Spyghetti features I’ve seen; it’s certainly more engaging than yesterday’s entry (OPERATION POKER). On the down side, the science fiction content is rather disappointing; the Maguffin turns out to be plans for the Russian H-Bomb, which, since both sides had the weapon at this point, doesn’t enter the realm of science fiction. That leaves the science fiction content to be the gimmickry; there’s a car that’s set up to set fire to another car parked behind it, there are pills that serve as radio transmitters, and there’s a potentially cool miniature laser used by the hero; unfortunately, he only uses it to cut through some ropes at one point, which is disappointing. This was apparently the first of three movies using the character of Bob Fleming.

Operation Poker (1965)

OPERATION POKER (1965)
aka Operazione poker
Article 3743 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-1-2011
Posting Date: 11-13-2011
Directed by Osvaldo Civirani
Featuring Roger Browne, Jose Greci, Sancho Gracia
Country: Spain / Italy
What it is: Spyghetti

Agent Glen Foster is assigned to locate a kidnapped Vietnamese official, but all of the people who have been assigned to the case of guarding him have been killed off one by one…

This Italian spy flick is marred by an extremely confusing beginning, an assortment of dull spots, and a truly disappointing ending. Still, I do give it a couple of pluses for one of the more amusing spy gimmicks I’ve seen; a car that can eject it’s back half. The science fiction element is also more prominent than usual for this type of genre; in this case, it’s a machine that can allow the user to have x-ray vision. I’ll probably remember these touches longer than I’ll remember the rest of the movie, which is pretty forgettable.