Peau d’ane (1908)

PEAU D’ANE (1908)
aka Donkey Skin
Article 4911 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-27-2015
Directed by Albert Capellani
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Fairy tale

When a woman turns down an ugly suitor, a fairy godmother appears to her and tells her to hold off on getting married until she is given the skin of a magic donkey. When she gets the skin, she wears it until she meets a handsome prince. Will she win him?

This is a title that ended up on my “ones that got away” list, but as soon as it did, someone pointed me the way to a copy. The intertitles were in French, but there was a handy plot description on IMDB to help me out. Still, I have to admit that the story seems very odd; maybe if I read the original story, it might help, but in this form, the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, in that it seems to come across as a series of unconnected events rather than a story. Stylistically, I couldn’t help but notice how similar it was to the work of Melies. Granted, a lot of the early fantasists borrowed from Melies, but this one even borrowed his penchant for confusing crowd sequences; there are a few of them here. And, of course, there’s a scene with dancing girls. There’s lots of magic, even in scenes where you wouldn’t expect any, such as the cake-baking scene. Overall, this one is odd and not quite satisfying.


The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)

Article 4910 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-25-2015
Directed by Basil Dearden
Featuring Roger Moore, Hildegard Neil, Alastair Mackenzie
Country: UK
What it is: When you’re your own worst enemy

After he dies on the operating table after a car accident, a man is revived but momentarily has two heartbeats. Afterwards, he begins to hear stories of his having been places and meeting people that he doesn’t remember. Is he going crazy, or is something more sinister going on?

I’d only been familiar with Roger Moore’s work in the James Bond movies, so it’s really nice to see him in a role (or two, as the case may be) that gives him a much greater emotional range; his performance is definitely a highlight of this movie. The movie itself is an exploration of the doppelganger concept, and it does a good job of turning the screws and putting you on edge. It does get a little weird around the edges, though I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing; certainly, Freddie Jones’ eccentric performance borders on the distracting, even if our first encounter with him in the movie is one of the more stylishly memorable scenes. The ending is also on the strange side and is open to interpretation, but it did have me hearkening back to scenes earlier in the movie, making me wonder if the character was a split personality to begin with. All in all, I quite liked this one, and I think it will be one that will bear revisiting.

The Man Who Laughs (1966)

aka L’uomo che ride
Article 4909 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-24-2015
Directed by Sergio Corbucci
Featuring Jean Sorel, Lisa Gastoni, Ilaria Occhini
Country: Italy / France
What it is: Period action movie

A man whose face was mutilated by gypsies in childhood becomes embroiled in a conflict between the Borgias and a rebel named Astorre Manfredi.

I’m quite fond of the 1928 version of this story, but I must admit that I’ve not read the Victor Hugo novel on which it was based. It’s been a while since I’ve seen that earlier movie, but as I watched this one, I found myself not recognizing most of the story elements, and at a certain point in the plot, I became rather curious as to whether either of the two movies matched the plot of the Hugo novel. I checked some plot summaries at Wikipedia, and I can say with some certainty that the 1928 version is far more faithful to the novel than this one is, as I saw no mention of the Borgias in that summary. That’s a bit of a comfort, actually; I’d rather not blame Hugo for some of the silly story developments that pop up in this adaptation. I was a little puzzled at first as to why the same actor played both the title character (here named Angelo rather than Gwynplaine) and Astorre, but the reason became clear during the final third of the movie. This, of course, brings us to the fantastic content in the movie; there’s the obvious horror content of a disfigured man, but the movie also ventures into science fiction territory when it posits the existence of plastic surgery at the time of the Borgias. I have no idea how this plot was concocted; it almost seems they had a whole different storyline written and then attached a few elements borrowed from the Hugo novel. The movie is pretty weak, but it’s so different from the 1928 version that I doubt that it will ruin anyone’s memory of that version.

Terror of Rome Against the Son of Hercules (1964)

aka Maciste, gladiatore di Sparte, Maciste: Spartan Gladiator
Article 4908 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-23-2015
Directed by Mario Caiano
Featuring Mark Forest, Marilu Tolo, Elisabetta Fanti
Country: Italy / France
What it is: Sword and Sandal, Historical Style

A Spartan gladiator who is a favorite at the court of Rome becomes enamored with a beautiful Christian woman. When her sect is arrested as enemies of the Roman state, the gladiator tries to rescue them so they can escape to a safe land, but he risks the anger of Caesar.

Which son of Hercules is it this time? The original title would you lead you to believe it’s Maciste, but that name was a little obscure for the English language version, so it was changed to Poseidon. Being a historical story rather than a mythological one, it’s lighter on the fantastic content, but there are a few moments where the hero might be construed to have super-strength (one of which may be the result of a miracle brought about by his prayer to God), and at one point he fights a big ape that, as far as I can tell, isn’t a gorilla, a chimpanzee, or an orangutan; I don’t know if this is a fictional ape or the result of a poorly designed costume. Those hoping for an evil queen in this one will be disappointed; all female characters are on the side of good. Storywise, it’s a fairly solid entry into this over-crowded sub-genre of fantastic cinema, but it’s also a bit on the dull side. It even has the wisdom to use the comic-relief character sparingly, though the food-obsessed Caesar may be one himself. All in all, this is an acceptable example of a sword and sandal movie.

Vampyros lesbos (1971)

aka The Heiress of Dracula
Article 4907 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-22-2015
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Soledad Miranda, Dennis Price, Paul Muller
Country: West Germany / Spain
What it is: Franco vampire movie

A female lawyer becomes entwined with a vampiric Countess who is the heir of Dracula.

I always feel a little bit self-conscious about reviewing Jesus Franco movies; there are a number of people I respect who consider him brilliant and a number of others who I also respect who consider his work a waste of time. As for me, I’ve decided that dealing with his work is a voyage of discovery of sorts, and I’m not sure ultimately on which side of the fence I’ll end up, that is if I ever get off the fence at all. I’ve seen quite a few of his movies that are indeed a waste of time, but I’ve also seen a few that are quite striking and do indicate a real talent at work. However, even at his best, he does take some getting used to; I have to acclimate myself to the slow, languorous pace of his work, and he’ll never probably be a favorite of mine simply because I don’t share his obsessions with lesbian sex and the Marquis de Sade. That being said, this is one of his better movies; it’s directed with a good sense of style, the musical score is effective and unusual, and I like the way it hovers around and parallels the story of Dracula without being an imitation of it. He references himself with another incarnation of Morpho (from the Dr. Orloff movies), and the movie feels like an organic whole with one exception; the sadistic character played by Franco himself seems to belong to a different movie. Still, I am left with a question; are there really nightclubs in Europe that specialize in these pretentious erotic dances that pop up so often in his movies? But then, I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that one.

Parts: The Clonus Horror (1979)

Article 4906 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-21-2015
Directed by Robert S. Fiveson
Featuring Tim Donnelly, Paulette Breen, Peter Graves
Country: USA
What it is: Science fiction conspiracy

A group of young men and women are brought up to practice physical fitness in isolation with the promise that when they’re ready, they will be sent to live in the Utopian world of America. One of the young men becomes curious about the secrets being kept from them, and decides to escape to America to find out the truth.

This movie currently has a fairly low rating of 3.4 on IMDB, and this is partly due to the fact that MST3K fans tend to give bad ratings to every movie they did. I think the movie is a little better than that; it does have an interesting premise that combines the concept of cloning with that of another concept (which I won’t give away here because it’s the big surprise of the movie) that doesn’t pop up very often, and it fits it neatly with the conspiracy movies of the era. It is, however, not really very convincing; it’s full of little errors in logic and unanswered questions that tend to build up over the length of the movie. I kept finding myself asking nagging questions, such as: why does the main character become suspicious that he’s being watched when he has no doubt been watched his entire life? Why is it so easy for him to infiltrate a building whose security should be much higher than it is? Why do some of the villains of the piece ACT like villains when it would be much better to take a kindly and friendly tone with those they deal with? I do get the sense that a certain amount of thought went into the script, but not nearly enough to make the movie convincing as a whole. Certain scenes are handled so badly that they become laughable; this is probably due to the fact that the budget was rather small and it was the director’s first stab at a feature film. Ultimately, it’s one of those movies in which a strong premise is hamstringed by a weak production.

God Told Me To (1976)

aka Demon
Article 4905 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-19-2015
Directed by Larry Cohen
Featuring Tony Lo Bianco, Deborah Raffin, Sandy Dennis
Country: USA
What it is: Religion-tinged horror

A police detective (who happens to be a devout Catholic) investigates a rash of serial killings from different people, each of whom reveals that they performed the killings because “God told them to”. He investigates a man who was seen talking to all of the killers in order to find the truth, but the truth hits closer to home than he suspects…

If there’s one thing I’ll hand to Larry Cohen, it’s that he’s not afraid to take a difficult theme and handle it in as interesting a fashion as he can. He’s also not afraid to court controversy; the concept that drives the movie will certainly upset Christians, and the various Christ parallels in the movie will only add fuel to the flames. The movie is a bit on the muddled side; there are moments where you have to read between the lines to figure out what’s going on, and it sometimes wanders off into side issues that it leaves unresolved. Still, it does make for some fascinating viewing, and there are touches here and there that make it feel a bit like the work of David Cronenberg as well. Quite frankly, I look forward to seeing some of Cohen’s other movies. The movie slips into science fiction before it’s all through, and the cast also includes Sylvia Sidney and (in his first movie role) Andy Kaufman.

The Collector (1965)

Article 4904 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-18-2015
Directed by William Wyler
Featuring Terence Stamp, Samantha Eggar, Mona Washbourne
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Thriller

A butterfly collector kidnaps an art student and holds her prisoner in his isolated house. His hope is that he can make her love him, but that may prove impossible.

IMDB classifies this in three categories: Drama, Romance and Thriller. It does not classify the movie as Horror. As a matter of fact, almost all of my reference works from which I draw my lists similarly reject this one as a genre work, and I’m not sure why; it’s definitely closer to Horror than it is to Romance, even if the subject of love is a central part of the story. I think it gets rejected because Terence Stamp’s character, even though he is clearly psychotic, is NOT homicidal; my usual category for this type of movie (“Psycho Killer”) doesn’t apply. But that doesn’t make him any less unhealthy or the scenario one whit less nightmarish. He wants something that his very actions have made impossible. And Samantha Eggar’s character’s situation is also impossible; her every failed attempt to escape or to fake what she’s feeling only eradicates the trust that she must build in order to finally be free. The end result is a nightmarish spiral that is quite horrific in its own right, and we sit on the edge of our seat because we don’t know exactly what this psycho will ultimately do when he finally realizes he’s not going to get what he wants. In my opinion, this IS a horror movie; it’s certainly closer than any other number of films I’ve covered. Furthermore, this one is highly recommended.

Carry On Up the Jungle (1970)

Article 4903 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-17-2015
Directed by Gerald Thomas
Featuring Frankie Howerd, Sidney James, Charles Hawtrey
Country: UK
What it is: Carry On movie, of course.

Several British subjects take an expedition to Africa. There they encounter a jungle man, a gorilla, a tribe of cannibals and a tribe of man-hungry women.

This is the third Carry On movie I’ve seen, and based on this one, I get the impression that the series became even more of what it was as time went by, which is to say that it is a non-stop compendium of double entrendres and sex jokes. This one tackles the jungle movie, with an emphasis on the Tarzan story. The fantastic content here is the usual “marginal fantasy” element of the whole Tarzan series, though it does throw in the element of the appearance of a supposedly-extinct bird to add to the mix. If you’ve seen a Carry On movie before and like the series, this one will go down easy for you; if you’re not taken with the series, it won’t change your mind. For me, the sex jokes and double entrendres wear thin quickly, but you might as well try to enjoy them; the jokes that don’t fall under those classifications are unfailingly lame.

Blue Demon y las invasoras (1969)

aka Blue Demon vs the Seductresses
Article 4902 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-16-2015
Directed by Gilberto Martinez Solares
Featuring Blue Demon, Regina Torne, Gilda Miros
Country: Mexico
What it is: Mexican wrestling movie

Mini-skirted female invaders from outer space seek to kidnap men for breeding purposes. Fortunately, Blue Demon the wrestler is available to stop them.

My print of the movie is in Spanish without subtitles, so I’m not going to pretend that I was able to follow the ins and outs of the plot. However, when you combine the above plot description with the fact that it’s a Mexican wrestling movie, and throw in the bargain-basement special effects with the laugh-inducing foley effects and the perfunctory acting, I think I can safely assume that the script wasn’t in danger of being nominated for any awards. Simply on a visual level, this is one of the silliest entries in this fairly silly genre. For those who keep track of such things, there’s one nightclub scene (though there’s also a private performance for one person) and two wrestling scenes (one with Blue Demon, one with female wrestlers). There’s the usual plethora of fight scenes and a fair amount of head-scratching here. Like most of these types of movies, it’s best viewed with the brain’s critical faculties disconnected.