Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)

VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (1970)
aka Valerie a tyden divu
Article 3992 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-28-2012
Directed by Jaromil Jires
Featuring Jaroslava Schallerova, Helena Anyzova, Petr Kopriva
Country: Czechoslovakia
What it is: Arty free-form vampire flick, among other things

A thirteen year old girl named Valerie, just coming into adulthood, must contend with strange events in her life, including the arrival of potential lover and the appearance of a vampire-like creature known as Weasel.

Is this the artiest vampire flick since VAMPYR? I’m not really sure, but I will say this much; it’s the most compellingly arty vampire flick since that one, and on a simply visual level, it’s stunning. Storywise, it doesn’t make a lot of linear sense, though the central theme seems to be the perils of the girl’s budding sexuality. The story, such as it is, centers around a pair of earrings and the power they give her to resist the perils of the vampire, a lusty parish priest, and the knowledge of her own parentage. The movie is decidedly non-realistic; everything feels as if it comes out of a stream-of-consciousness Freudian fairy tale, and this tends to render some of its taboo subject matter (there’s lots of touches of incest, for example) bearable. There’s no way to adequately describe this one, but anyone demanding linear storytelling will want to stay away. Those willing to undergo more abstract movies may well find this one quite fascinating, as I did.

White Goddess (1953)

WHITE GODDESS (1953)
aka Ramar of the Jungle
Article 3991 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-26-2012
Directed by Wallace Fox
Featuring Jon Hall, Ray Montgomery, M’liss McClure
Country: USA
What it is: Jungle TV-movie cobbled together from TV episodes

Two doctors explore the jungle in search of a white goddess in the hopes of discovering her secret of eternal youth.

This movie almost ended up on my “ones that got away” list, and therein lies a tale. The movie first entered my hunt list with the title RAMAR OF THE JUNGLE, which matches the name of the TV series from which episodes were culled to produce it. Yet, IMDB did not list a movie with the same title, and though I found ample evidence that several movies were culled from the series, none of the lists I found made any mention of one of them having the same title of the series. It wasn’t until I was preparing to move it to my “ones that got away” list that I found the clue I needed; a check against CITWF indicated that RAMAR OF THE JUNGLE was a rarely used alternate title to a movie called WHITE GODDESS. A listing of that movie did exist in IMDB, and the cast and the plot description indicated I was on the right track.

However, it quickly became clear that the movie itself wouldn’t be easy to find; I found no sources for it. Still, I’ve had this problem before with movies culled from TV series; if I could find the individual episodes that made up the movie, I could watch those. After a bit of searching, I discovered the names of the episodes; they were “Evil Trek”, “Tribal Feud” and “White Savages”. All of these episodes were conveniently located on YouTube.

So I’m cheating a little once again, but I’ve made a habit of it in these cases, so why stop now? At any rate, I get the impression that the series, though not badly done, largely existed to regurgitate all the usual jungle movie cliches. Some of the movies culled from the series didn’t have any fantastic content, but this one features the youth-preserving drug that centers around two of the episodes. All in all, it was okay, but little more than that. Still, the fact that I was able to solve the mystery surrounding it and keep it from falling into my “ones that got away” list does give me a certain sense of victory.

Lonesome Ghosts (1937)

LONESOME GHOSTS (1937)
Animated short
Article 3990 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-26-2012
Directed by Burt Gillett
Featuring the voices of Billy Bletcher, Pinto Colvig and Walt Disney
Country: USA
What it is: Spooky cartoon

Four bored ghosts decide to spice up their life by luring three hapless ghost catchers to their haunted mansion and having some fun with them.

It looks like this Disney cartoon may be one of the main inspirations for the movie GHOSTBUSTERS; Goofy even says “I ain’t scared of no ghosts!” at one point. The plot is simple enough; the three ghost catchers show up at the mansion and the ghosts terrorize them one at a time. The animation is excellent, as I would expect from Disney at this period. It’s a solid, amusing cartoon, but I must confess that for some reason, I rarely find myself laughing at the Disney shorts near as much as I do at the Warner Brothers shorts at their best; for example, during the sequence in which Goofy deals with a ghost who is pulling the old mirror gag on him, I found myself thinking how much funnier it would be if it had the timing of a Warner Brothers cartoon backed with the music of Carl Stalling. Still, this is a worthy cartoon. And I do need to remind myself that this one was made several years before Warner Brothers would hit their stride.

Immer Arger mit dem Bett (1961)

IMMER ARGER MIT DEM BETT (1961)
aka Nightmare
Article 3989 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-24-2012
Directed by Rudolf Schundler
Featuring Senta Berger, Gunter Pfitzmann, Trude Herr
Country: West Germany
What it is: Comedy of mistaken identities

A detective has a nightmare that his wife has been unfaithful, and when she is mistaken for a call girl, he finds his nightmare coming true.

This movie first entered my list as NIGHTMARE some time ago, but that’s not one of the alternate names on the movie in IMDB. The only clue I had was that it featured Senta Berger, and she made several movies that year, and so it remained a mystery to me. When it finally ended up on the “ones that got away” list, one of the members of CHFB was able to zero in on its original title, and also pointed me in the direction of acquiring a copy. So here I am, finally reviewing it, but, truth to tell, I’m not sure it was really worth the effort. I was only able to find a copy in German without subtitles, but even with that problem, it appeared to me that the fantastic content (the nightmare coming true) is very light; the nightmare is a short sequence at the beginning of the movie, and it hardly comes true in any literal sense. As for the movie itself, it seems well directed and makes some interesting use of music, but the comedy looks rather tepid, and I suspect the whole thing would prove to be rather forgettable. Outside of Berger, the only other performer I recognize is Leon Askin, who turns out to be the primary villain of the story.

To All a Goodnight (1980)

TO ALL A GOODNIGHT (1980)
Article 3988 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-23-2012
Directed by David Hess
Featuring Jennifer Runyon, Forrest Swanson, Linda Gentile
Country: USA
What it is: Santa slasher

Two years ago, a girl fell to her death during Christmas vacation due to a sorority prank gone wrong. Now someone in a Santa suit is knocking off the girls one by one.

Director David Hess is most well known for having played Krug, the main murderer in THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. I hope you find the little tidbit of news interesting, because it’s far and away the most interesting thing about this movie. It’s the slasher movie at its most formulaic; teens are killed off (usually right after having sex) one by one in various ways by a killer in a Santa Claus outfit. The movie makes no use of the Santa Claus gimmick, the murders are poorly staged, the dialogue suffers from a short attention span and a tiresome need to state the obvious and repeat previous statements, and the killer is glaringly obvious. The only point for creativity it gets is for ditching one of the most obvious slasher cliches for a new twist, though in truth, it does this so clumsily that it loses the point it just gained. Quite frankly, this is for slasher completists only.

The Haunted Mouse (1941)

THE HAUNTED MOUSE (1941)
Animated short
Article 3987 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-22-2012
Directed by Tex Avery
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc and Walter Tetley
Country: USA
What it is: Cat vs Mouse, once again

A starving cat tries to find sustenance in a ghost town, but the only mouse he finds is a ghost with a chip on his shoulder.

It looks like I’m on a run of scary rodent cartoons at the moment. This one is from my favorite cartoon studio, Warner Brothers, and is directed by one of the animation greats, Tex Avery. Still, I have to admit that Tex Avery really didn’t reach his full powers until he moved to MGM, and though his cartoons with Warners were good, they don’t have the wild abandon of the director at his best. This one is solid and entertaining, but none of the gags really stands out, and there’s nothing particularly special about this one.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse (1947)

DR. JEKYLL AND MR. MOUSE (1947)
Animated short
Article 3986 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-21-2012
Directed by Joseph Barbera and William Hanna
No voice actors
Country: USA
What it is: Cat vs mouse

Tom, tired of Jerry constantly drinking his milk, decides to do him away with a poisoned dish of it. However, the poison has an unexpected side effect; it turns Jerry into giant mouse with super strength.

Ah, there’s nothing like a little classic animation to brighten things up for a bit. This one is typical Tom & Jerry with a fantastically themed twist. As expected, all of the gags are visual, there’s quite a bit of violence (though it’s not as violent as the team can be in their most extreme), and it is very amusing. And sometimes, I find the littlest touches amusing; my favorite example here is when Tom discovers that Jerry has a mouse door to the wall safe, the mouse door itself looks like a vault door. To be truthful, I like Hanna and Barbera much better before they discovered limited animation.

The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976)

THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (1976)
Article 3985 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-20-2012
Directed by Matt Cimber
Featuring Millie Perkins, Lonny Chapman, Vanessa Brown
Country: USA
What it is: Exploitation horror art movie character study, some or all of the above

A woman, a victim of incest and out of touch with reality, begins slicing up men with razors.

Every once in a while I run into a movie that makes me want to check the summary of user ratings on IMDB, largely to see if I’m right in my guess as to the reactions various people might have had to the movie. Sure enough, this is one of those movies where the reactions are all over the board, and I can fully understand that. The subject matter that drives the story (incest) is not for the faint of heart, and nor are the murders. And, given the subject matter, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that so many characters in this movie seem to be crazy. However, I’m still not sure that the actors in this movie are playing like they’re crazy, or simply come across that way because the dialogue is so bizarrely overwritten that they don’t quite know how to deliver it. The movie is consistently off-putting, and it gets to the point where nothing seems real at all. There are times where the movie seems insightful; at other times, it seems pretentious, and there are moments where it just feels plain bad. In the final analysis, I have to admit that I really don’t know how I feel about this movie, but I will say this much; the movie stakes out its own unique piece of ground, and there aren’t very many movies that can make that claim.

The Wacky World of Mother Goose (1967)

THE WACKY WORLD OF MOTHER GOOSE (1967)
Article 3984 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-19-2012
Directed by Jules Bass
Featuring the voices of Margaret Rutherford, Bob McFadden, Susan Melvin
Country: USA
What it is: Animated fairy tale

When Mother Goose leaves for a visit to her sister, the evil Count Warptwist takes over the kingdom and enslaves the subjects. Two children embark on a quest to find Mother Goose and save the land.

There are some children’s movies that you will watch with your kids, and some that you’ll leave your kids to watch alone. This is one of the latter. With the exception of Margaret Rutherford, the voice acting leaves much to be desired, the animation is limited and dull, the songs are quite awful, and the story largely consists of seeing how many different Mother Goose poems they can shoehorn into the mix. And as for it’s being wacky, I didn’t find a single decent laugh in the movie. This may be the weakest Rankin/Bass production I’ve seen for this series.

Martin (1976)

MARTIN (1976)
Article 3983 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-18-2012
Directed by George A. Romero
Featuring John Amplas, Lincoln Maazel, Christine Forrest
Country: USA
What it is: A vampire movie…or a serial killer movie?

A young man who believes he is a vampire but disdains all the magical paraphernalia associated with the affliction moves in with an elderly cousin who is aware of the vampirism.

I went into this one expecting a serial killer who thinks he’s a vampire, which, in itself, isn’t necessarily a great or original concept. However, this movie is too clever to be fall into the cliches and traps of either vampire or serial killer movies, at least partially because it remains ambiguous about the true nature of the title character; is he deluded or is he an eighty-four year old vampire? That he lives in something of a fantasy world is no doubt (he imagines that his victims desire his embrace), but could the black-and-white sequences include memories as well as illusions? It’s the way that the movie manages to be both a character study while playing with the cliches of both the vampire and serial killer movies that make it unexpectedly rich. I like that the fact that the only person he seems to open up to is a late-night talk show host who sees him as an opportunity to increase the ratings of his show. And I also like the myriad ironies of the end of the movie, an ending that is both inevitable and unexpected. Romero himself plays a small role as a priest, and Tom Savini plays the boyfriend of the old man’s granddaughter. This is a clever, fascinating movie.