Samoyed Boy (1928)

SAMOYED BOY (1928)
aka Samoedskii malchik
Article 4462 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-27-2014
Directed by Valentina Brumberg and Zinaida Brumberg
No cast
Country: Soviet Union
What it is: Animated Soviet propaganda

A young Eskimo manages to defeat a polar bear, but the greedy shaman master to whom he is employed steals the bear for his own food. Can the boy exact revenge?

Sometimes, for one reason or another, I’ll have a movie on my hunt list for a while before I realize that I have a copy of it; sometimes this is due to the size of my collection and sometimes it’s because I was unable to correctly document its existence in my collection. As it turns out, I had this movie in a collection of Soviet animated propaganda that I had picked up for another movie on my hunt list, but at the time of my purchase, there was no listing for this short on IMDB and so I lost track of it. This being propaganda, it needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but it can be evaluated on how well it illustrates its point. On this level, it works well enough for most of its running time; the shaman is obviously the capitalist who takes everything for his own and rules by fear over those under him, using an idol which can supposedly move of its own accord; in reality, it’s being manipulated by a worker. As long as the story focuses on the conflict between the boy and the shaman, it works well enough and is even mildly entertaining, at least partially because the animation is well done. However, after the story has properly ended, the short has the boy leaving the North and going to a worker’s school in the Soviet Union to be properly indoctrinated, a development that adds nothing to the story and only seems to be designed to pound the messages home. That’s propaganda for you, and that’s why so much of it is pretty weak. The existence of the shaman and his idol provide the fantastic content.

A Gnome Named Gnorm (1990)

A GNOME NAMED GNORM (1990)
Article 4461 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-26-2014
Directed by Stan Winston
Featuring Anthony Michael Hall, Jerry Orbach, Claudia Christian
Country: USA
What it is: Action fantasy

When a rookie cop bungles a sting operation, he discovers that the man responsible for his failure can be identified by an unexpected witness – a gnome that has emerged from the underground to recharge a crystal.

Well, I will say this much; this action cop adventure with a fantasy twist isn’t appreciably worse than I though it would be. However, it’s not appreciably better either. It’s one of those movies where you wait for the Gnorm to start making off-color comments, because you know that’s just the sort of “cool” thing that movies like this go for, and, sure enough, once Gnorm meets the female cop, we start to learn the Gnome terms for body parts. The rest is pretty standard stuff indeed, and the only time I was really amused is when the hero uses his standing as a policeman to take over a vehicle to give pursuit, he opts for a hearse leading a funeral procession. In a sense, I’m grateful that the movie wasn’t so irritating it was painful; it’s just one of those movies that has no surprises and leaves no real impressions. And I’m also grateful that I was able to resist peppering this review with words that began with ‘N’ so I could add a ‘G’ in front of them.

Looker (1981)

LOOKER (1981)
Article 4460 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-25-2014
Directed by Michael Crichton
Featuring Albert Finney, James Coburn, Susan Dey
Country: USA
What it is: High-tech thriller

When several of his patients die mysterious deaths, a plastic surgeon begins to suspect that something foul is afoot, as all of them were commercial actresses who worked with a company called Digital Matrix… and a fourth patient may be the next victim.

There’s an eerie prophetic quality to the science fiction aspects of this thriller; with a premise that involves the creation of fully controllable computer-generated images modeled off of beautiful actresses, it’s not hard to see a connection to recent CGI technology. There’s some stunning use of set design, and there’s some stylish direction as well, and the acting is very strong. The problem is that the story gets a little lost in the mix; it hints at several side issues (such as the use of the technology for political manipulation and the that the doctor is being framed for the deaths of the models) that remain undeveloped, certain plot developments don’t make much sense, and though there’s something fascinating about the gun that can be used to freeze someone’s mind so that they skip a few minutes of time, I’m not quite sure what it’s doing in this movie. Furthermore, the stylish qualities sometimes work against the movie; the entire climax of the movie may be fun to look at, but it’s also seems so distant that it generates virtually no suspense. In the end, I found the movie more interesting than exciting, and I was left feeling somewhat unsatisfied; it’s more of a nice try than a success.

Kung Fu from Beyond the Grave (1982)

KUNG FU FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1982)
aka Yin Ji
Article 4459 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-24-2014
Directed by Chiu Lee
Featuring Billy Chong, Lieh Lo, Chin-Lai Sung
Country: Hong Kong
What it is: Martial arts of the macabre

A Kung Fu expert is called on by the ghost of his father to find his bones and take revenge on the man who killed him. However, the target for his revenge has the help of black magic on his side.

I’ve covered a lot of movies with outrageous titles over the years, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that if the movie comes from the supernatural side of martial arts movies, they’re going to be even more outrageous and wilder than the title. The weirdness never lets up in this one, what with the ghosts, zombies, vampires (Dracula himself!) and black magicians all engaging in martial arts mayhem, which consists of (as usual) a frenetic combination of gymnastics, dance choreography and sound-enhanced gesturing. I suppose I could complain about the lack of coherence, but then, I never really expected it going in. As usual, all I can do is sit there and try to take it all in, and though I’m sometimes not sure whether I’m being entertained or just being overwhelmed, at least I’m not bored, and there’s plenty of laughs along the way. Still, I’m glad that these types of movies only come along sporadically in the series; things would get very tiresome if I watched too many of them at once.

Keep My Grave Open (1976)

KEEP MY GRAVE OPEN (1976)
Article 4458 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-22-2014
Directed by S.F. Brownrigg
Featuring Camilla Carr, Gene Ross, Stephen Tobolowsky
Country: USA
What it is: Mad psycho thriller

A woman lives on an isolated farm with Kevin, who may be her brother and/or lover, and who may also be responsible for the deaths by sword of trespassers on the property.

I’ve seen only a handful of S.F. Brownrigg’s low-budget movies, but then, he only directed a handful. He’s definitely one of the more interesting directors I’ve encountered who works on such a low budget, largely because he manages to throw in unexpected twists and odd touches that are rather intriguing. It’s anchored by a strong performance from Camilla Carr as the disturbed woman who obsesses about her brother, and much of the mystery and suspense in this one hinges on the nature of Kevin; it’s not so much a matter of who he is, but it is a matter of whether he is actually present. Parts of the movie are quite predictable, but not entirely, and I found the ending very intriguing indeed. It is as much a character piece as a horror thriller, though, and there’s a chance that some people might find this one a little dull; nevertheless, I liked it. The movie also features Larry Buchanan regular Bill Thurman as a hitchhiker.

Nazi S.S. (1966)

NAZI S.S. (1966)
aka Borman
Article 4457 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-21-2014
Directed by Bruno Paolinelli
Featuring Sandro Moretti, Liana Orfei, Dominique Boschero
Country: Italy / France
What it is: Spyghetti… sort of

Escaped Nazi Martin Borman hatches a plot designed to resurrect the Third Reich, and it’s up to an American agent to find him and stop him.

It occurred to me on viewing this how rarely Nazis popped up as villains in the Superspy genre, given how ubiquitous they have been as villains over the years. I suspect there are reasons for this, not the least of which is that the source for so many of the Bond-inspired movies was Italy, which was one of Germany’s allies during WWII; as a result, I suspect there might be a bit of cultural discomfort with the idea. This is one of the rare exceptions, and I do notice that the movie wavers a bit between being a more serious spy adventure and a superspy movie, as if it’s not quite sure which way it wants to go. Storywise, the movie is passable, but between the heavy use of stock footage and the scenes of people walking from one place to another (which serves the dual purpose of padding the film and showing off the location footage), it gets pretty dull on occasion. Easily the most memorable scene involves a crash landing on an aircraft carrier, which I suspect is a cleverly used piece of stock footage, but I might be wrong. As far as the fantastic content goes, it’s very slight here; there’s some minor gadgetry, and since the action involves a historical character involved in a world-changing event, it might qualify as political science fiction, but that feels like a real stretch.

Jack the Ripper (1976)

JACK THE RIPPER (1976)
Article 4456 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-20-2014
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Klaus Kinski, Josephine Chaplin, Herbert Fux
Country: Switzerland / West Germany
What it is: Jack the Ripper movie

A doctor who specializes in charity cases is murdering and mutilating prostitutes. The police try to catch him.

The movie is focused and coherent, which is something I can’t always say about a Jesus Franco film. The acting is generally good, though it is sometimes difficult to tell through a dubbing job that isn’t particularly good. It’s also nice that the sex scenes are actually relevant to the story, and that’s usually a sign that it’s one of Franco’s better films. It is also a bit on the obvious side, not particularly original, and though it does generate a bit of suspense on occasion, it has some dull stretches. Still, it is one of Franco’s films that can be enjoyed by people who aren’t particular fans of the director, and it does look like he took a little more care with this one.

Porcile (1969)

PORCILE (1969)
Article 4455 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-19-2014
Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Featuring Pierre Clementi, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Alberto Lionello
Country: Italy / France
What it is: Art film

In the past, a man becomes a cannibal and starts a cult of followers. In the present, a young man finds himself alienated by human relations that leaves him with strange desires.

I know I’ve encountered Pasolini before, but I don’t quite remember what my reactions were to his other works. I found this one, which seems to be a meditation on taboo subjects (cannibalism, bestiality), capitalism and Nazism, among other subjects, to be very difficult. Some of the user comments on IMDB do lead me to believe that there is a point to the movie, and I do sense that there is something there, but I find myself unable to really explain it. I do get the feeling that the cannibal in the historical section and the young man in the modern section are essentially the same character; though played by different actors, they look quite similar and in some ways suffer the same fate. The cannibal plot puts it into the realm of horror, and the historical section seems at least partly a fantasy.

Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973)

INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS (1973)
Article 4454 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-18-2014
Directed by Denis Saunders
Featuring William Smith, Anitra Ford, Victoria Vetri
Country: USA
What it is: Science fiction exploitation

A town with a government research facility is the site for a number of deaths of men who have had heart attacks from an overabundance of sexual activity. A government agent is sent to investigate.

Apparently Nicholas Meyer wanted to have his name taken off the credits due to script tampering. I can’t help but wonder what elements were his and what was the result of tampering. Given that the movie isn’t outright porn, I suspect the only place it could lead is into exploitation, and that’s what you get here; there’s lots of nudity, quite a bit sex humor,  I’m never quite sure exactly what the experiments that result in the bee girls are supposed to accomplish, but in a movie like this, explanations are probably extraneous. At any rate, I suspect that the main audience for this one are those who are attracted to the central concept in the first place. For those primarily interested in its fantastic content, there’s not a lot here.

Bloodbeat (1983)

BLOODBEAT (1983)
aka Blood Beat
Article 4453 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-17-2014
Directed by Fabrice A. Zaphiratos
Featuring Helen Benton, Terry Brown, Dana Day
Country: USA
What it is: Offbeat horror

Something is killing hunters in the Wisconsin woods. What is it, and what does it have to do with two psychic women in a nearby family?

This movie starts off with a fairly deliberate pace and has some rather arty touches about it. Though I know this would be an instant turn-off for some, I found that it caught my attention and made me hoping for something quite different than my usual fare. As a result, I thought the first half of the movie showed some promise. Despite the touches, however, this is primarily a horror film, and when it does go for the horror, it… well, it looks like an extremely cheap and increasingly silly horror movie from the early eighties. After that point, it’s hard to take any arty touches (or, for that matter, the movie itself) seriously, even if it does occasionally show a perverse imagination. Ultimately, the movie becomes a bizarre combination of slasher film and psychic drama, and I got quite annoyed with the fact that the main reason you’re not quite sure what’s going on is because the characters that do know what’s going on refuse to talk about it. In the end, the movie falls flat, but I do have two pieces of advice for anyone making a cheap horror film. 1) If the only special effects you can afford are really shoddy, use them very sparingly or you’ll end up with a lot of annoying glowing swords, and 2) If you’re going to have a character assaulted by inanimate objects in a kitchen, take a good look at the inanimate objects you’re going to use and figure out how scary they are (Cutlery: Yes – Canisters of name brand chocolate drink mix: No).