Yolanda and the Thief (1945)

Article 4327 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-5-2013
Directed by Vincente Minnelli
Featuring Fred Astaire, Lucille Bremer, Frank Morgan
Country: USA
What it is: Musical

An American con man hiding out in a fictional South American country decides to swindle an heiress by pretending to be her guardian angel. But he doesn’t reckon with love showing up…

Let’s talk plot logic for a minute. You have a girl who is going to be the heiress of a large fortune and the head of the biggest business in the country. In preparation for this responsibility, she is raised in a convent away from the world for twelve years, and the only business advice she is given is to trust in her guardian angel. All I can say is that whoever came up with that plan fully deserves to have the fortune lost to the first con man that comes along.

I could go on in this vein, but let me just sum up now by saying that the story is silly, trite and unbelievable. Still, that’s not necessarily a fatal problem; after all, this is a musical, and one of the specialties of the musical form is to take pieces of fluff like this and bring them to life. And I will say this about the movie; it certainly does that; in fact, it not only brings it to life, it jolts it with so much sugar and caffeine that the resulting rush is almost hallucinatory at times. This is one weird movie, especially during a dream sequence in which Fred Astaire has to deal with such things as being held prisoner by a gang of washerwomen, lighting the eight cigarettes of an eight-armed man, and watching a horseless horse race. This is one of those movies where I’m often enthralled and appalled at the same time; there are times where I’m blown away by the beautiful Technicolor spectacle of the costumes and the sets while being horrified at the way they’re used in such excess. In a similar way, I find it hard to reconcile the way it juxtaposes incredibly naivete with strong sexual undercurrents, particularly during Yolanda’s bath sequence. I can see why the movie was a box-office failure; it was probably too much for the audiences of the time. However, I am willing to bet that this one has a cult following of some sort.

As for the fantastic content, on top of having a mythical country of Patria where the action takes place, there’s the whole plot involving the con man pretending to be a guardian angel. Given the type of movie it is, I’m not surprised ultimately that before it’s all over, the heiress’s real guardian angel shows up. Still, I might have classified it as a fantasy even without these elements; one of the first impressions I got from the visuals in the opening scenes is that wherever this movie took place, it was certainly nowhere in the real world.

For me, the movie has at least one huge flaw; it’s a musical featuring Fred Astaire and you have to wait at least forty minutes before he does his first dance. That is a crime in itself.

Halloween II (1981)

Article 4326 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-4-2013
Directed by Rick Rosenthal
Featuring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Charles Cyphers
Country: USA
What it is: Slasher sequel

Michael Myers is still alive and killing anyone who stands in his way. Can Laurie Strode survive another encounter with this killer?

One of the things I felt about the original movie in this series (which basically kicked off the whole slasher craze) was that it was actually quite a bit of fun in the way it set forth its thrills; it just seemed like a wonderful movie for Halloween. Well, one of the earlier scenes in this sequel has a mother bringing her little boy to the hospital because he’s got a razor blade stuck in his mouth, no doubt the result of someone planting one in a candy bar. That’s the sort of event that can really take the fun out of Halloween… and, unfortunately, that event became something of a metaphor for my reaction to this movie. It’s bloodier, and the body count is higher; I’m sure some people would consider these as plusses. But the surprises are gone, and the suspense and thrills are lacking; if the original kicked off the whole slasher cycle, this one is just another slasher movie. Jamie Lee Curtis can’t really help much in this one; she’s given little more to do than project terror and fear, and though she’s good at it, it’s still a one-note affair. For me, the best thing about this one is Donald Pleasence, whose character Dr. Loomis is a piece of work; you’re never sure just how sane he is. Overall, I suppose it’s passable for an entry in the slasher genre, and there are a couple of decent moments, but I have to admit that for me, the fun wasn’t there.

Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)

aka Godzilla vs the Smog Monster, Gojira tai Hedora
Article 4325 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-3-2013
Directed by Yoshimitsu Banno
Featuring Akira Yamauchi, Toshie Kimura, Hiroyuki Kawase
Country: Japan
What it is: Monster mash with a message

When a creature that thrives on pollution manifests itself, Godzilla sets out to destroy it.

This title from the Godzilla series is considered by many to be one of the worst of the series. Part of this, no doubt, is due to the silliness of the original American title, but part of it may also be the streaks of preachiness and pretentiousness that pervade the movie. I myself don’t consider it the worst; there are others I like far less due to their uninspired recycling of cliches, and this one at least has the novelty of having been a change of stylistic direction for the series, no doubt due to the direction of Yoshimitsu Banno. Still, it misses as often as it hits. The movie eschews the use of the famous Akira Ifukube themes, and the results are mixed. The fight scenes mostly have no music, and this is quite effective, but the music that does pop up is either forgettable or actively annoying; Godzilla’s new theme would be more appropriate for big, stupid buffoon than for the King of the Monsters, and the theme song, which I’ve never liked in the first place (especially in the English version where the lyrics are atrocious) is overused. I love the design of Hedorah, there’s some very creative editing, I like the animated segments, but the anti-pollution theme is pretty overbearing; there are far too many shots of polluted oceans. The movie is one of the most horrific in its display of human death since the original movie in the series, but it lacks the grief that makes this sort of thing poignant. The worst moment for me in the movie is the scene where Godzilla flies; it’s neither a good idea nor well done. Nevertheless, the movie has a moment near the end that I’ve always loved, and it’s when Godzilla turns his gaze on some of the humans present, who react in fear as to what he’s going to do to them. I like this moment because it’s one of the only times that I’ve seen Godzilla acknowledge the humans that he usually ignores, and one senses the accusing nature of the look as if he’s holding us responsible for Hedorah. That is perhaps why I’ve always had a fondness for this one.

The Evil Dead (1981)

Article 4324 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-2-2013
Directed by Sam Raimi
Featuring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor
Country: USA
What it is: Bloody mayhem

A group of friends staying in a deserted cabin discover an evil Sumerian book that summons demons to possess them all.

I’ve been curious about this movie for some time, and I’m glad to finally have gotten a chance to see it. It’s easy to see why Sam Raimi went on to a successful directorial career; he has a definite sense of style, knows how to use sound effectively, and keeps the pace going at a frantic pace. It’s also easy to see why Bruce Campbell became such a popular cult actor as a result of his work here; much of the movie deals with him being on the only remaining human character, and he does a great job in keeping you involved with his predicament. The movie is often creatively audacious in the way it plays with, subverts, and sometimes succumbs to cliches; you’re never quite sure which way it’s going to go. And there’s something fascinating about the way it employs its nonstop barrage of gore effects. Nevertheless, it never quite becomes “the ultimate experience in grueling horror” that it claims to be; it’s merely one of the most outrageously excessive. It’s so over-the-top that it never really becomes believable; you’re in a (particularly gruesome) funhouse, and you know it. Maybe it’s no surprise that the sequel moved into the direction of comedy; with some of the stuff that happens in this one, it veers pretty close to being comic itself.

Frankenstein Island (1981)

Article 4323 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-1-2013
Directed by Jerry Warren
Featuring Robert Clarke, Steve Brodie, Cameron Mitchell
Country: USA
What it is: Horror hodgepodge of gross ineptitude

Four balloonists find themselves stranded on an island that is being used for unholy experiments.

When I covered 2 + 5 MISSION HYDRA and A*P*E, I mentioned that both films were part of an unholy trio of movies that became notorious initiation standards in a bad movie watching group I ran called “The Exposed Film Society”. This was the third, and it marks the cinematic swan song of Jerry Warren, my own personal choice for the worst director of all time.

Most of Jerry Warren’s movies are what I would classify as snoozefests; they’re long-winded, incoherent, and devoid of interesting events. In the mid-sixties, he discovered the swinging sixties action sequence, and though he proved utterly inept at them, it did at least add a smidgen of interest factor to his work, which became laughingly bad rather than sleep-inducing, and I suppose this might be called an improvement. The movie that resulted at that time was THE WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN; a lawsuit followed, and it would prove to be Warren’s last film for many years.

I wonder how long the idea for FRANKENSTEIN ISLAND germinated; it has the air of having been cobbled together from fifteen years of story ideas. It’s a very loose remake of the director’s own TEENAGE ZOMBIES, and on top of having zombies (most of whom seem to resemble Elton John), it incorporates the Frankenstein legend, references to the Dracula story, a race of bikini-clab Amazon extraterrestrials, the extension of life, communications from the dead, arty psychedelic touches with Freudian undertones, black magic, Poe obsessions, disembodied brains, and strange pains induced by the mention of other places that is supposed to be similar to telepathy (or so the dialogue tells me). Throw in such touches as an annoying laughing man, a toy devil’s pitchfork that induces vampirism, a rotating pink ammo box and random appearances of the ghost of John Carradine talking about power and the golden thread, and you have a working definition of movie clutter. Trying to make a coherent whole of this mess would have taxed the best writers, directors and editors in the world; with Jerry Warren in all three capacities, the result is some of the most ambitious low-budget ineptitude to make it to the screen. Though the movie has several genre name actors, most of them seem lost and confused, and who can blame them; only Cameron Mitchell seems to maintain focus, and even his character (a captive sea captain mourning his lost Lenore) is so contrived that it’s a losing battle. It’s all topped off with an ending which recycles one of the worst cliches of all time, and the lab fight may be the single worst action sequence of all time.

Yes, I’ve seen it several times; in its own way, it’s something of a marvel. I just make sure not to try and figure it out; that would only give me a headache.

The Flesh and Blood Show (1972)

Article 4322 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-30-2013
Directed by Pete Walker
Featuring Ray Brooks, Jenny Hanley, Luan Peters
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Homicidal maniac on the loose

A troupe of actors are called together to put together an improvisational show at an old rarely-used theater on a pier. Then someone begins knocking off the actors one by one…

Before I started this series, I’d never even heard of Pete Walker. My first encounter with him was with the movie FRIGHTMARE, a movie so savagely horrific that I mentally marked him as a director to reckon with. This movie marks my fourth encounter with him, and I’m beginning to think that FRIGHTMARE was the exception rather than the rule. The title may be the best thing about it, as it seems to promise sex and mayhem in equal doses; as it is, there’s a lot more flesh than blood here, and more of people standing around talking than either one of them. The movie suffers from a bevy of uninteresting characters, a general lack of suspense, and a sense of obviousness; you’ll probably be connecting the dots a lot earlier than the movie does if you haven’t already been lulled into a state of apathy. This is the most disappointing movie of Walker’s that I’ve seen, but then again, it’s also the earliest one of his that I’ve seen; perhaps he needed to hone his craft a bit.

Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)

Article 4321 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-29-2013
Directed by Robert Fuest
Featuring Vincent Price, Robert Quarry, Valli Kemp
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Campy horror sequel

After three years, Dr. Phibes arises from his tomb with a plan to bring his beloved wife back to life… and he won’t let anyone stand in his way.

The common view of this film is that it is the inferior sequel to THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES. Still, I have to count myself in that minority of people who like it better than the original. No doubt part of the reason is that I saw the sequel first, and after experiencing its campy floridness and over-the-top stylish excesses, I found the original to be somewhat on the dry side. Vincent Price gets a lot more dialogue in the sequel, and I love to hear him talk (though admittedly, much of what he says is redundant). The cops are, if anything, even more dimwitted here than they are in the original, and for me, the most nightmarish murder occurs in the sequel (the one with the scorpions). The sequel gives me more of a hint as to how the character would work in a continuing series of movies, and I would gladly gladly trade ten sequels to FRIDAY THE 13TH for a couple more Dr. Phibes movies. I won’t deny it has its fair share of flaws; in particular, I couldn’t help but notice this time that the script is more than a bit threadbare. Still, when I want to experience a Dr. Phibes movie, this is the one I’m likely to choose. My favorite joke is one that I didn’t catch until a third or fourth viewing; when one of the policemen suggests that they need a ram to open a door, notice where the other policemen looks.

The Day Time Ended (1979)

Article 4320 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-28-2013
Directed by John ‘Bud’ Cardos
Featuring Jim Davis, Christopher Mitchum, Dorothy Malone
Country: USA
What it is: Odd little science fiction movie

A family living in a home in the desert finds that their area is the center of activity caused by a distant triple supernova whose light has just reached the Earth, and they find themselves in the middle of a time-space vortex.

The last couple of low-budget movies I’ve seen did little more than rehash familiar stories and plots. This one is much more ambitious; in fact, despite the fact that it does seem to show a certain amount of influence from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, it really is trying to do something original. It’s not exactly successful; it’s maddeningly episodic at times, vague and confusing at others, and it ultimately doesn’t really satisfy, but the journey is often entertaining and sometimes intriguing. There’s a fair amount of stop-motion special effects here; there’s a tiny alien creature, a miniature spaceship, and two of the oddest looking dinosaurs that I’ve ever seen. If they had hitched a really strong story to this one, they might have really had something, but even as it is, it’s worth a viewing for the more interesting touches.

Curse of the Swamp Creature (1966)

Article 4319 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-27-2013
Directed by Larry Buchanan
Featuring John Agar, Francine York, Jeff Alexander
Country: USA
What it is: Larry Buchanan movie

A mad scientist performs experiments with evolution in the Texas swamps.

For the second day in a row, I’m watching a movie about a monster in the swamps. The two movies even share an actor; Larry Buchanan favorite Bill Thurman, who played the sheriff in the last movie, here plays a dual role as an oil man and the title creature. It’s a loose remake of VOODOO WOMAN with the action moved to the Texas swamps, and unlike some of the other movie Buchanan made for AIP, almost all of the dialogue has been rewritten. Is it any good? Well, let’s just say that Buchanan invests it with the same cinematic skill and insight that he showed on the other movies of his that I’ve covered; in other words, it’s pretty awful. Nevertheless, I do have to tip my hat to a man who was willing to make movies in uncomfortable locations like this one in a swamp at Caddo Lake; it takes a certain amount of dedication and commitment to his calling, and, as bad as his movies were, Larry Buchanan has at least gained a certain amount of fame for his work. He left his mark, such as it is. And with this movie, I’ve completed the catalogue of his genre AIP remakes of the sixties.

Creature from Black Lake (1976)

Article 4318 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-26-2013
Directed by Joy N. Houck Jr.
Featuring Jack Elam, Dub Taylor, Dennis Fimple
Country: USA
What it is: Sasquatch movie

Two college kids from Chicago come to Louisiana to find proof of the existence of a sasquatch.

I first encountered this movie on my local Creature Feature. This was after the rise of “Saturday Night Live” had consigned it to the wee hours of the morning, and the drop of ratings resulted in the program having to cut costs, and the quality of the movies dropped dramatically. About all I could remember about it for years was a scene near the end where the creature attacks a van, and my main impression was that it was a very cheap effort. I was surprised a bit by some of the user comments on IMDB, many of whom consider it a very scary film; still, I notice that the overall IMDB rating of 3.5 shows that a considerable amount of voters are not impressed. My own reaction on this viewing is that if you take for the subgenre it belongs too (Bigfoot movies of the seventies), it may well be in the running as one of the better examples, but the competition isn’t exactly strong, and I still prefer THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK. It has a lot of local color and atmosphere, is generally well acted, The script itself is meandering and weak, though it does have its moments. Still, I didn’t find it particularly scary.

One issue that I occasionally encounter is that some people love movies where the monster remains in the shadows the whole time and you never get a good look at it, such as happens here. I can appreciate their argument that this may be scarier by leaving things to the imagination, and that it often spares us the disappointment of being disappointed by seeing the monster in all its glory. Still, my own reaction is different; yes, I’ve been disappointed by how the monster looks on occasion, but I’ve always been MORE disappointed when the monster is not shown at all. Just my two cents.