El misterio del rostro palido (1935)

aka The Mystery of the Pallid Face
Article 3833 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-1-2012
Posting Date: 2-11-2012
Directed by Juan Bustillo Oro
Featuring Carlos Villarias, Beatriz Ramos, Natalia Ortiz
Country: Mexico
What it is: Mad experiments gone awry

An unbalanced scientist, obsessed with finding a cure for leprosy, takes his son on an expedition to study native medicines for a cure. Eight years later the scientist returns… and brings with him a strange man in a white mask.

Juan Bustillo Oro is apparently considered the father of Mexican horror for some of the films he made during the thirties. This one has a solid rating of 7.1 on IMDB, which seems to indicate that it’s pretty good, and I’m willing to bet it is if you can find a copy subtitled in English or can understand Spanish. Sadly, neither is the case with me, and though there are a few interesting visual moments, this is one of those movies that relies heavily on talk, especially during the first half. Still, Carlos Villarias (who played the title role in the Mexican version of Browning’s DRACULA) is memorable as a mad scientist; here he looks a bit like George Zucco. I was fortunate to to be able to find a plot description after I watched the movie to help me understand it a little, but I think it’s really going to take some good subtitles to make me appreciate this one. Maybe someday someone will release a set of Oro movies complete with subtitles; he does appear to have been a very interesting horror director.

Night of the Cobra Woman (1972)

Article 3832 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-31-2012
Posting Date: 2-10-2012
Directed by Andrew Meyer
Featuring Joy Bang, Marlene Clark, Roger Garrett
Country: USA / Philippines
What it is: Bizarre snake woman thriller

During World War II, a nurse is bitten by a rare snake that gives her eternal life as long as she gets a combination of sex and snake venom to keep her going. However, new problems arise when her snake is killed and her supply of venom stolen…

Though I would hardly call this a “good’ movie (it’s badly directed and some of the acting is awful), the movie has such a bizarre premise and a strange story line that it almost becomes fascinating despite itself. The story eventually degenerates into confusion, but there are some grotesquely interesting moments, such as the scene where the cobra woman sheds her skin like a snake. At times it almost comes across as a comedy, but that may be due to the awkward direction. In fact, the whole movie comes across as awkward in one way or another, but somehow that just adds a bit more to the fascination. And let’s face it; any movie that features an actress named Joy Bang and an actor named Slash Marks (the latter’s only movie) is one to be reckoned with. Probably the most familiar face to me here was Vic Diaz, who popped up in THE BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT. Strange, strange, strange.

Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

Article 3831 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-30-2012
Posting Date: 2-9-2012
Directed by Jimmy T. Murakami and Roger Corman
Featuring Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, John Saxon
Country: USA
What it is: STAR WARS rip-off

When a peaceful planet is threatened by evil invaders, one of the residents escapes in a spaceship to gather mercenaries to do battle with the invaders.

Yes, it’s another ripoff of STAR WARS, but it’s probably the one I enjoy most of that type. I think the main reason is that it has a decent script from John Sayles, and just the right kind of star power to pull this sort of thing off. Given that George Lucas borrowed from Akira Kurosawa’s THE HIDDEN FORTRESS for his movie, I think it’s pretty fitting that Sayles borrows from another Kurosawa film – namely, THE SEVEN SAMURAI – for this one. It works because the mercenaries end up being a fairly interesting bunch, and the script is strong enough that neither the attempts at humor nor the attempts at pathos fall flat. If anything, it manages to be somewhat more adult than its model, especially with some of the bizarre and daring costumes they give to Sybil Danning. It’s silly at times, and the battle sequences are more confusing than entertaining, but the character bits will stay with me. My favorite line comes when a child asks the ruthless Mercenary Gelt (Robert Vaughn) if he was bad even when he was little, and he replies “I was never that little.”

Operation Kid Brother (1967)

aka OK Connery
Article 3830 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-29-2012
Posting Date: 2-8-2012
Directed by Alberto De Martino
Featuring Neil Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Adolfo Celi
Country: Italy
What it is: Spyghetti

When a crime syndicate plots to steal a magnetic wave generator with the intention of destroying all steel-based power in the world, a secret service organization recruits a plastic surgeon with hypnotic powers to help defeat them.

Now here’s a gimmick movie if ever there was one; an Italian spy movie aping the James Bond movies with Sean Connery’s brother Neil Connery as the secret agent, and featuring several actors and actresses who appeared in the official Bond movies; Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Daniela Bianchi, Adolfo Celi and Anthony Dawson. If it was intended as the start of a series, it didn’t pan out, which is just as well; the market must have been pretty flooded with Italian spy flicks at the time. Unlike yesterday’s movie, this one is loaded with enough gimmickry to make it qualify as science fiction. The story is messy, convoluted, and more than a little silly; the sequence where the military is trapped by a bevy of can-can dancers may be the goofiest scene in the picture. This was Neil Connery’s first movie, but apparently his English voice is dubbed, and most of his work afterwards is pretty minor. My copy of the movie is horribly panned-and-scanned, which is especially noticeable during the hypnotism sequences; I know they’re supposed to be close-ups of the eyes, but what we end up with is close-ups of the bridge of the nose, which is not particularly engaging. It’s extreme low rating on IMDB (2.5) is due to its having been featured on MST3K, but it’s really no worse than most of the other Italian spy flicks of the era.

Her Majesty’s Top Gun (1977)

aka No. 1 of the Secret Service
Article 3829 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-28-2012
Posting Date: 2-7-2012
Directed by Lindsay Shonteff
Featuring Nicky Henson, Richard Todd, Aime MacDonald
Country: UK
What it is: Low-budget Bond parody

Secret Agent Charles Bind is sent out on a mission to investigate the murders of noted financiers.

This movie was apparently meant to be a parody of the James Bond movies; unfortunately, on that level, the movie is a failure. Not only are the intended laughs ineffective, there’s far too much wasted time between them. The closest I came to being amused was during a sequence where an assassin in training honed his skills by shaving off the whiskers of his brother with his gun. Other than that, it tries for laughs with a lame running gag involving his female assistant and a soda syphon, horrible post-killing one-liners, and action sequences both more exaggerated and more undernourished than those in the real James Bond movies. However, if the comedy falls flat, there is at least one compensation. I actually found the villain in this one rather intriguing; his plan is offbeat, and he’s so cocky he practically drags the secret agent along with him on the assassinations just to show him how useless it is for the agent to stop him. Still, the movie overuses him; his character would have been more fun if he hadn’t been in every other scene, and both the script and the budget are too undernourished to make it all work. There’s some fun faces in the cast (such as Milton Reid and Jon Pertwee), though they aren’t really given enough to do. Also, in terms of its fantastic content, this one is very light on the gadgetry; other than the fact that the secret agent has a huge machine gun installed in his car, I don’t think there’s any at all. Therefore, I don’t really think this qualifies as a genre effort.

The Werewolf and the Yeti (1975)

aka La maldicion de la bestia, Night of the Howling Beast
Article 3828 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-27-2012
Posting Date: 2-6-2012
Directed by Miguel Iglesias
Featuring Paul Naschy, Mercedes Molina, Silvia Solar
Country: Spain
What it is: Werewolf/Yeti action

An explorer on an expedition to find the Yeti is bitten by a werewolf and becomes one himself. Can he find a cure to his condition?

The film opens with the Yeti attacking an exploratory party. The Yeti turns out to be a large creature with black fur and white fangs. This is all well and good, I suppose, but I did find myself asking whether this was the Yeti or the Werewolf, who also has black fur and white fangs. The context of the story helped me find the answer, but the point I’m making is – wouldn’t it have been more interesting to pair up a couple of monsters that looked different?

Still, the movie ended up pretty much what I expected; it’s another of Paul Naschy’s “El Hombre Lobo” movies, and it has Naschy once again in the role of hero/monster. There’s also some torture, sex, sadism and nudity, plus all these beautiful women who want to sleep with Naschy. There’s some bandits and evil sorceresses to add to the usual Naschy monster mash mix. Those who know and like Naschy’s movies will probably be quite happy with this one; there’s little in the way of surprises. Perhaps the most interesting thing to me about it was the neat way the movie makes use of the Tibetan setting to dovetail it with a similar plot device from WEREWOLF OF LONDON, indicating that Naschy knows a bit of cinematic werewolf history.

Where Has Poor Mickey Gone? (1964)

Article 3827 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-26-2012
Posting Date: 2-5-2012
Directed by Gerry Levy
Featuring Warren Mitchell, John Malcolm, Ray Armstrong
Country: UK
What it is: An eerie tale

A gang of hooligans break into a magician’s shop and terrorize the owner. When they force him to give a magic performance, they discover that he may be more than he seems…

This movie has only a 4.9 rating on IMDB. I’m not sure why, but one other fact may explain it. My copy only ran about 35 minutes, a good deal shorter than the given running time of 59 minutes. The plot description on IMDB says that the hooligans are ejected from a nightclub, and there are several members in the cast list playing people in the nightclub. My print picks up with the hooligans out on the street, which I suspect comes after the nightclub scene. I’m wondering if that scene turned out to be long and unnecessary; as far as I”m concerned, I saw everything I needed in order to understand the characters and the situation, and its 35 minute running time was brisk and to the point. So maybe this edited version is stronger than the full one. At any rate, in its present shape, it’s like a slightly long episode of “The Twilight Zone”, well acted, fun and rather eerie.

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971)

aka La notte che Evelyn usci dalla tomba
Article 3826 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-25-2012
Posting Date: 2-4-2012
Directed by Emilio Miraglia
Featuring Anthony Steffen, Marina Malfatti, Erika Blanc
Country: Italy
What it is: Horror story with twists and turns

A troubled Lord, haunted by the death of his wife, picks up red-headed prostitutes and kills them. Eventually he decides that he can escape the haunting if he marries again. But this starts a whole new chain of horror…

I’ll give this movie a certain amount of credit for continually managing to get more complex as it goes along without giving the game away early on. It starts out looking like it’s going to be like a sixties-style Italian horror movie (only with more nudity than they could get away with earlier), but it doesn’t stop there, eventually having as many twists and turns as a giallo. Still, though I admire the structure somewhat, I’m afraid I really didn’t find the whole journey a lot of fun, and once I think back on the plot as a whole, I start wondering about the purpose or necessity of certain scenes; for one thing, I’m not sure I can find a really good reason for the lord’s second wife trying to establish whether his first wife is still in her tomb. In the end, it’s a movie I more admire than like.

Little Boy Blue and Pancho (1962)

aka Little Boy Blue, Paraiso escondido
Article 3825 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-24-2012
Posting Date: 2-3-2012
Directed by Mauricio de la Serna and Raphael J. Sevilla
Featuring Maria Elena Marques, Jorge Martinez de Hoyos, Luis Osorno Barona Jr.
Country: Mexico
What it is: A boy and his monkey

A Yucatan farm boy collects animals, but his favorite is a monkey named Pancho. When his father gets irritated by the monkey’s mischief, he gives it away to a beggar, who sells it to a couple of poachers. The boy undertakes a trek through the jungle to find his beloved monkey.

Here’s another K. Gordon Murray release of a Mexican children’s movie, but unlike most of the others I’ve seen, this is not a bizarre fantasy, but rather a straightforward adventure tale. It’s “The Motion Picture Guide” that has misidentified the movie as fantasy, but it’s not the first time I’ve questioned their genre classifications. The only content here that places it in the fantastic genres is more horror than fantasy; there’s a scene in a spooky old hacienda with a skeleton, and we see the skeleton’s head crawling on the ground, only to discover that there’s an animal under it. It is a bit creepy, but it’s only one scene, and it’s the only moment where the movie tries anything of this ilk. On its own terms, it’s passable, though it helps if you like animal footage; if not, there’s no point in looking for this one. There’s some adventure, a little action, a little tear-jerking, and lots of landscape. In my book, this is another false alarm.

Blood Relations (1977)

aka Bloedverwanten
Article 3824 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-23-2012
Posting Date: 2-2-2012
Directed by Wim Lindner
Featuring Sophie Deschamps, Maxim Hamel, Ralph Arliss
Country: France / Netherlands
What it is: Horror comedy

A nurse arrives at a small town to discover that the blood supply at the hospital is being raided by a small group of vampires.

The above plot description is an approximation based on what I was able to figure out visually. As you know by now, I don’t always see these movies under ideal circumstances; for example, I often end up watching movies that are not dubbed in or subtitled in English. The odd thing about this one is that I do appear to have an English print of the movie; the credits are in English. The trouble is that my copy lacks a certain something; namely, a soundtrack. The experience was somewhat like watching a movie in a foreign language, except I can’t even rely on sound, music, or even the fluctuations of the human voice to help me out. Still, I was able to figure out that the movie was at least partially a comedy, and it looks like a rather offbeat and interesting one at that. The vampires aren’t the conventional sort; they drink their blood out of bottles, sometimes with straws, and the only neck-biting is in a scene from a movie they end up watching. Naturally, I can’t give any worthwhile critique of this one; however, it is one in which I’d revisit if I could get it with the soundtrack. Until then, all I can say is that it looks quite interesting.