Torgus (1921)

TORGUS (1921)
aka Verlogene Moral, Torgus the Coffin Maker
Article 4472 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-12-2014
Directed by Hanns Kobe
Featuring Gerd Fricke, Ferdinand Gregori, Eugen Klopfer
Country: Germany
What it is: Drama

A strict aunt plans to send her nephew away to agricultural school, only to learn that one of her maids is pregnant with the nephew’s child. She sends the nephew away and hides the maid in the house of a local coffin-maker, and then steals the baby away from the maid after it is born.

For the most part, there is certainly nothing here that would make this rather dark drama qualify as a horror movie. However, there is a final macabre turn to the tale that pushes it into horror territory, and that’s why it’s being covered here. This one was quite difficult to find, and the only copy I’ve been able to acquire is in very poor condition; this makes it a little difficult to follow, and though I’ve heard that it has some of the same expressionistic style of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, it’s hard to confirm that with this print. I quite liked it overall; it’s a sad tale of cruelty and tragedy, and even with the print in the condition it is, it retains some of its power.


The Neverending Story (1984)

aka Die unendliche Geschichte
Article 4471 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-11-2014
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Featuring Noah Hathaway, Barret Oliver, Tami Stronach
Country: West Germany / USA
What it is: High fantasy

A young boy leading a troubled life manages to get a book that he is told is too dangerous for him to read. He reads it and finds himself immersed in a quest to save the land of Fantasia from being consumed by nothingness, but he soon discovers that he has more invested in the story than he thinks…

I’ve not read the book on which this movie was based, but I do know that the movie only covers about half of the book, and that author Michael Ende was not happy with this adaptation of his work. Even without being familiar with the book itself, I do sense that there is something a bit incomplete about the movie, and there are some scenes that seem too pat (in particular, a revenge scene involving three bullies) while others seem anti-climatic. Still, there’s enough here to make me look forward to reading the novel someday, and there are some moments that I like very much indeed. This was apparently the most expensive movie made in West Germany at that time, and though the special effects aren’t always convincing, they are fun and atmospheric. My favorite scene is the saddest in the movie; it’s the scene where the Rock Biter talks about his hands. In a sense, it feels somewhat like a children’s version of the Thomas Covenant novels by Stephen R. Donaldson. I don’t quite rate it with the best fantasy movies I’ve seen, but I do think it is very good.

Out of the Darkness (1978)

aka Night Creature
Article 4470 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-10-2014
Directed by Lee Madden
Featuring Donald Pleasence, Nancy Kwan, Ross Hagen
Country: USA
What it is: Wild animal on the loose saga

A famous big-game hunter, shamed by having become frightened during a hunt for a dangerous leopard, has the beast captured and taken to his island. He dismisses all his servant, and then releases the animal so he can have one final showdown with it. Then members of his family unexpectedly show up…

You know, when you’re engaged on a project like mine, you find yourself encountering the same stories over and over again so often that you find yourself welcoming any one that is different enough to provide some variety. This one has a premise novel enough to qualify, and therefore I found myself liking this one more than I probably should. That’s not to say that I don’t see problems with it. The script and direction often misfire, with certain themes left underdeveloped, other themes handled with total lack of subtlety (we only really need to see the hunter’s and leopard’s face in double exposure ONCE, thank you), a little too much padding here and there, overused effects (they use what I suspect is the same shot of the leopard’s face in the darkness at least ten times), and an inability to really tap into the suspense inherent in the premise. I am glad that it works occasionally, and much of this has to do with Pleasence’s performance. Of course, there’s also the issue as to whether this is strictly genre or not. The leopard might be considered a monster of sorts, but I’m not sure the movie does anything with the hint that the beast might be supernatural, nor do I know whether the hints of a psychic link between the hunter and the leopard is enough to make it qualify. Still, it did lend a little variety to my recent viewing schedule.

Bigfoot: The Mysterious Monster (1975)

aka The Mysterious Monsters
Article 4469 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-9-2014
Directed by Robert Guenette
Featuring Peter Graves, Peter Hurkos, William Stenberg
Country: USA
What it is: Cryptozoology documentary

Peter Graves examines the evidence for the existence of Bigfoot, as well as evidence for other rumored monsters.

I wonder if Peter Graves himself undertook the investigation of the evidence of the existence of Bigfoot (as he claims to do in the film), or whether that was just a conceit of the script for this documentary. Whatever the case, I will give the movie credit for being one of the more focused and entertaining of the documentaries of this era that claimed to deal with realms of the fantastic. I myself would love it if these creatures existed, though I do remain skeptical, and I don’t consider the existence of this documentary as ironclad proof in and of itself. There’s a number of touches I like. One is Peter Graves’ noticeable irritation in his interview with a scientist who dismisses the eyewitness accounts of the creature because they aren’t on the same level as palpable physical evidence, an encounter which leads to the exploration into the disparity between scientific evidence and legal evidence. I also like the encounter with a genuine Bigfoot hoaxer. There’s also an interesting point/counterpoint sequence in the discussion of the famous Patterson footage. Still, I think one of the most striking touches of the documentary is the emphasis on the olfactory reactions to the encounters with Bigfoot, as it strikes me that someone faking a Bigfoot encounter might actually miss giving details on how he smelled. In the end, I quite enjoyed this one, and it actually does come from Sunn Classics.

Mutant (1984)

MUTANT (1984)
aka Night Shadows
Article 4468 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-8-2014
Directed by John “Bud” Cardos and Mark Rosman
Featuring Wings Hauser, Bo Hopkins, Jody Medford
Country: USA
What it is: Toxic zombie movie

Two brothers get trapped in a small Southern town where the residents are suffering from a flu-like plague. However, the plague ends up turning them into bloodthirsty zombies with a toxic touch.

The movie has a 4.7 rating on IMDB, which is not very good, but I think I like it a little better than that. It’s made with a certain amount of competence, the characters don’t annoy me, and the music isn’t a turn-off, and, in general, I find the movie watchable enough. There’s a few script problems, to be sure, and there are times where the characters don’t always act with much in the way of intelligence. The primary problem with the movie is that it’s pretty derivative of any number of “zombies on the loose” movies, and its few original ideas don’t really lift it above the pack. I suppose I’m damning the movie with faint praise, but one of its strengths is that the moments that don’t work don’t make me hate the movie, but then, maybe that just means it caught me in a good mood, but there it is. I’ve sat through better, but I’ve sat through a lot worse.

La paura degli automobili nemici (1915)

aka Breakdown of the Aeromobiles, Fear of Zeppelins
Article 4467 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-5-2014
Directed by Andre Deed
Featuring Andre Deed, Leonie Laporte, Domenico Gambino
Country: Italy
What it is: Slapstick comedy

A newly-married man ends up ruining his wedding night when he believes the city is undergoing a zeppelin attack, and he proves incompetent at following the safety instructions for such an event.

Here’s another title that has been retrieved from my “ones that got away” list, as a copy of it became available to me. I have a little background to cover on this title, though. It first entered my hunt list as BREAKDOWN OF THE AEROMOBILES, a title that certainly made it sound like a science fiction epic about flying cars. However, it turns out that this title was the translation of a misspelling of the original title; the Italian word “Panna” means breakdown, and the Italian word “Paura” means fear. Furthermore, as exotic as an aeromobile sounds, it turns out that the Italian word “aeromobili” actually translates as zeppelin. Hence, the correct translation of the title is FEAR OF ZEPPELINS. You’ll notice that the science fiction content has flown out the window.

Furthermore, having seen the movie, you don’t even get a zeppelin; the hero only thinks there’s a zeppelin invasion when he mistakes a honking horn as an alarm. Most of the movie has him destroying everything around him as he incompetently tries to follow the instructions on a zeppelin defense flier he has seen. Andre Deed does seem to be pretty creative with slapstick mayhem, but since the subtitles in the short were all in Italian, I couldn’t quite appreciate it because I never really knew just what he failed to understand in the instructions. But, in short, there’s no fantastic content here, and the title only made it to my hunt list as the result of a series of mistakes, which, if you think about it, parallels what happens in the movie itself.

Marta (1971)

MARTA (1971)
Article 4466 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-4-2014
Directed by Jose Antonio Nieves Conde
Featuring Marisa Mell, Stephen Boyd, George Rigaud
Country: Spain / Italy
What it is: Psycho thriller

A disturbed man who murdered his own mother takes in a murderess who bears a strong resemblance to the man’s estranged wife. This does not sound like the beginning of a healthy relationship…

This is one of those movies that I thought I had pegged early on; it’s made of so many familiar elements (a disturbed man with sexual hang-ups that involve his mother, a woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to the man’s first wife, sinister secrets in mansion) that I expected very little in the way of surprises in the way it would unfold. I was wrong; there are indeed surprises, things didn’t quite pan out the way I expected, and everything was just a little more complicated than I expected it would be. Yet, for all that, I can’t really say I like the movie. The characters seem to undergo too many jarring mood swings, parts of it seem very contrived, and there are other moments that strike false notes. In fact, despite some very definite horror trappings, it doesn’t feel like a horror movie, and when I look over the movie as a whole, the main point of it seems to be to reveal the precise nature of the man’s mental illness. It’s an interesting movie, there’s no doubt, but I would have liked it a lot more if it had rang true more often.

Man in Outer Space (1962)

aka Man from the First Century, Muz z prvniho stoleti
Article 4465 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-3-2014
Directed by Oldrich Lipsky
Featuring Milos Kopecky, Radovan Lukavsky, Anita Kajlichova
Country: Czechoslovakia
What it is: Science fiction comedy

A repairman accidentally launches himself into space on a rocket. He returns to Earth 500 years into the future to find a Utopian society, which he seeks to exploit with the help of a space alien who is capable of turning himself invisible.

I like Czech science fiction, and I really enjoyed Lipsky’s I KILLED EINSTEIN, GENTLEMAN when I saw it. This one isn’t quite up to that level, though I know the substandard dubbing on my copy of the movie is probably a big stumbling block in appreciating the movie. Most of the humor is quite obvious; a greedy con man tries to take advantage of his unique position as a relic from an earlier time and his secret involvement with a scientifically superior extraterrestrial entity to amass a fortune, but finds that not only is the world not designed for him to take advantage of, but that he himself is eventually considered insane. More interesting is the alien himself, who sees things only in patterns and attempts to gain an understanding of this thing the humans call love. The ideas are interesting, and there’s a lot of imagination in the set design and special effects, but (in the dubbed English version at least), the laughs aren’t there. Still, it manages to have some points of interest, and it does have a great ending line.

Man from Atlantis (1977)

Article 4464 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-2-2014
Directed by Lee H. Katzin
Featuring Patrick Duffy, Belinda Montgomery, Dean Santoro
Country: USA
What it is: Science fiction TV pilot

When an amphibious man is found washed up on the shore, the military takes control of him and makes his existence a national secret. He is then sent out on his first mission: to locate a submarine that has gone missing.

I’ve already seen other episodes of the “Man from Atlantis” TV series; this, the pilot episode, is easily the best of what I’ve seen so far. Part of the reason is that the script is much stronger than the ones I’ve seen in the other entries of the series, particularly during the opening scenes of the movie. The other reason is the appearance of Victor Buono as the villain in the second half of the movie. Now, I’ve seen Buono as a villain many times, but his performance of Mr. Schubert here as a man brimming with folksy affability is a brilliant move; based on this performance alone, his character has catapulted to my list of all-time favorite TV villains. My other feelings about elements of the series remain the same; Patrick Duffy is much more interesting under the water than he is on dry land, and the show in general handles the underwater scenes very well.

Madame Sin (1972)

Article 4463 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-28-2014
Directed by David Greene
Featuring Bette Davis, Robert Wagner, Denholm Elliott
Country: UK
What it is: Supervillain story

A CIA agent who has left the agency is kidnapped by a powerful supervillainess known as Madame Sin, who recruits him to help her to steal a Polaris submarine.

This movie actually has a decent rating on IMDB (at the time I write this, 7.0), but the user comments seem to be largely negative, which makes me suspect that the movie is one of those that splits its audience. I wonder if what many people don’t like about it is what I do like about it. It’s working in a very familiar genre (the supervillain/superspy story), but it jettisons many of its conventions. It’s stylishly directed, but in a totally different way than the other ones I’ve seen, though it does remind me a little bit of the Dr. Phibes movies. The movie is full of interesting and curious scenes, such as the one in which the hero, temporarily deaf, tries to get a tourist to make a phone call for him. And because it’s defying, bending and playing with conventions, it’s somewhat unpredictable; there are several plot surprises along the way. Those who love the conventions of the supervillain genre may feel put off, but I personally liked to see something really different done with the ideas. There’s plenty of gadgetry to add the fantastic content, and I like all three central performances in the movie. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.