So Darling, So Deadly (1966)

aka Kommissar X – In den Klauen des goldenen Drachen, Agent Joe Walker – Operation Far East
Article 4901 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-15-2015
Directed by Gianfranco Parolini
Featuring Tony Kendall, Brad Harris, Barbara Frey
Country: Singapore / Italy / Austria / West Germany
What it is: Spyghetti

Agent Joe Walker and his sidekick Captain Tom Rowland go to Singapore to visit a scientist who has developed a filter that can turn lasers into death rays. However, an evil organization called the Red Dragon is also after the filter.

I’ve encountered the Kommissar X series once before with KISS KISS, KILL KILL, and I quite liked that one; they’re basically superspy pastiches with a somewhat lighter touch to them. I’m less taken with this one; the lightness feels a little more forced, the characters aren’t quite as much fun, the humor gets a little too Matt Helm-ish for my taste, there’s not a whole lot to the story, and the action sequences aren’t very satisfying. Granted, they’re not to be taken very seriously, but even on those terms, this one is a bit on the dull side. I hope this one is just a dip in the quality of the series, as most likely I’ll be watching all of them. The fantastic content is put on display once during the first half of the movie; then it falls into the category of a Gizmo Maguffin and isn’t used again. I was a little disappointed by this one.

The Mad Butcher (1971)

aka Lo strangolatore di Vienna
Article 4900 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-14-2015
Directed by Guido Zurli
Featuring Victor Buono, Franca Polesello, Brad Harris
Country: Italy / West Germany
What it is: Cannibalism comedy

A Viennese butcher is released from an insane asylum to continue his trade, but decides not to go home to his hated wife but to live in a furnished room over the butcher shop instead. When he kills his wife in a fit of temper, he disposes of the body as one would expect a butcher to do so. However, the resultant sausages turn out to be extraordinarily popular…

Usually with foreign movies, it’s best to watch them in their original language with subtitles, but there are exceptions. When the big star of a foreign movie is American and performs his role in English, it can be better to see the English dub, as is the case here. The best element of this movie is Victor Buono’s performance in the title role; his measured delivery and assured use of gesture and business make him a delight to watch, and he remains the primary reason to catch this one. However, even that delight starts to dissipate as the movie progresses; his character has a streak of sexual perversion that turns unpleasantly ugly (rather than blackly comic), and by the end of the movie, those elements begin to dominate. It’s a bit of a shame, as the movie’s humorous touches were largely working quite well up to that point. If you’ve seen other cannibalism comedies (and there are a few out there), there won’t be a whole lot to surprise you as far as the story goes, but that’s a minor quibble. In truth, I found this movie to be better than I was expecting it to be; I just wish it hadn’t turned sour at the end.

Frankenstein (1984)

Article 4899 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-13-2015
Directed by James Ormerod
Featuring Robert Powell, David Warner, Carrie Fisher
Country: UK / USA
What it is: You know the story.

Dr. Frankenstein creates a creature, which then escapes, but returns to haunt him.

It’s getting so that I rather dread covering movies like this; the story of Frankenstein has been done so many times that I sometimes wonder if it’s possible to come up with a fresh way of approaching the material. Furthermore, this one is a TV-Movie that looks like a TV-Movie; it feels flat and is largely devoid of atmosphere. It has a decent cast, but a weak script; it borrows some of its story from the original novel, other parts are borrowed from earlier cinematic versions of the story, and for the most part, what original touches it adds to the mix are quite bad. About the only new touch that I really liked was that the monster finds himself confusing his creator with God, but the script as written makes very clumsy use of this concept. Much as I like David Warner as an actor, I wouldn’t have cast him as the Creature; he has a good face for it, but the role requires touches of pathos that don’t really play to the actor’s strengths. The acting is mostly acceptable, but gives in to melodramatic scene-chewing on occasion. The end result is a forgettable take on the classic tale.

Malombra (1942)

Article 4898 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-12-2015
Directed by Mario Soldati
Featuring Isa Miranda, Andrea Checchi, Irasema Dilian
Country: Italy
What it is: Gothic thriller

A noblewoman stays with her uncle under the agreement that she will not leave until she is married. She comes by a letter from her grandfather’s first wife, who was held prisoner in the same castle. The gist of the letter is that the noblewoman is the reincarnation of this woman, and is given several predictions for the future, and instructions to take revenge for her death by killing off the descendants of her grandfather. The noblewoman laughs it off at first, but then the predictions start coming true….

This is an interesting if overlong Gothic thriller made in Italy during the Axis years, and Isa Miranda, though largely forgotten nowadays, was considered one of the finest actresses of that era. Her performance as a woman who may be mad or possessed is one of the most effective things about the movie, and it’s quite interested to watch the way she manipulates and uses those around her to accomplish her aims. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t really start moving until about two-thirds of the way through, and though the acting is strong and visuals are interesting, the first two-thirds of the movie (which sets up the characters and situations) does go on a bit too long. However, it’s very effective in the climax, and it has one of those twists that I really like, in that they catch you by surprise at first and then you realize it was a logical extension of the story. It’s a solid, satisfying movie, and several of the comments I read about it compare it to Hitchcock’s REBECCA. It’s worth a look.

Ghost Story of the Seven Wonders of Honsho (1957)

aka Kaidan Honsho nanafushigi
Article 4897 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-11-2015
Directed by Goro Kadono
Featuring Juzaburo Akechi, Namiji Matsuura, Shigeru Amachi
Country: Japan
What it is: Japanese ghost story

An evil nephew kills his uncle so he can take possession of his wife and his money. However, the uncle once spared the life of a Tunuki (a ghostly were-badger), and the Tunuki vows to help the uncle’s son get revenge.

Here’s another of the many ghost movies made in Japan during the fifties. This one runs only about fifty-five minutes and looks rather cheaply made. The story is pretty perfunctory, and it features some scenes that look pretty common for this sort of movie; once again, we have scenes of a man trying to attack the ghosts only to accidentally clear his own allies. Still, it has a fun assortment of weird-looking ghosts who manifest themselves in various ways. It also features a ghost I’ve seen in several other movies, and I hope someday to figure out if it’s a traditional Japanese ghost or the result of someone’s imagination; it looks for all the world like the “major prize” won by Darren McGavin in A CHRISTMAS STORY, which is to say, it’s a leg wearing a lampshade.

Westworld (1973)

Article 4896 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-10-2015
Directed by Michael Crichton
Featuring Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin
Country: USA
What it is: Machinery runs amok

Several vacationers visit the resort of Delos, which has a series of themed fantasy getaways (the old west, Roman times and medieval times) inhabited by lifelike robots, in which vacationers can indulge in their violent and hedonistic fantasies without fear of hurting someone or being hurt themselves. And, of course, nothing could possibly go worng….

Though I wouldn’t call it the best of the Michael Crichton movies, this is perhaps the most quintessential one in that it defines what we’ve come to expect from Michael Crichton; the catchphrase for the movie is certainly definitive. Storywise, it’s not only archetypal; it’s also fairly bare-bones, but from what I gather, the movie was edited down from a much longer cut that Crichton thought was too dull. Even at that, there are scenes here that feel like filler or padding; the barroom fight is silly and pointless, and the scene where a woman is rescued from the dungeon of the medieval world feels like a stall. Still, there are some clever touches here; I like that some of the robots are of animals as well as humans, and I do like how they at least address the possibility of guests potentially hurting each other. Nevertheless, it does seem to me the height of foolishness to have the robots packing loaded guns. For me, the best thing about the movie is Yul Brynner’s performance as the Gunslinger; it’s modeled off of the character he played in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, but he does such an effective job of playing an unstoppable non-human character that he more than anything else sells the last third of the movie. Apparently, his character was the inspiration for the Michael Myers character in the HALLOWEEN movies, as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance in THE TERMINATOR.

Tron (1982)

TRON (1982)
Article 4895 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-9-2015
Directed by Steven Lisberger
Featuring Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner
Country: USA
What it is: Good vs. Evil in VideoGameLand

A hacker intent on finding proof that his work was pirated by an executive at a corporation joins forces with the author of a security program in order to get that evidence, and to break the iron hold a Master Control Program has over the corporation’s computer system.

The primary appeal of this movie is visual; the virtual world of the inside of a computer system in which much of the action takes place makes for some marvelous eye candy. Not that there’s anything wrong with the acting, which is good (my favorite performance here is from David Warner, who excels in villainous roles); it’s just that the type of movie it is doesn’t really require much from the actors other than a certain level of competence. The story has a few problems, largely because its reliance on trying to create visual manifestations of abstract and non-physical concepts occasionally leaves us in a confused muddle; there are moments where it’s rather difficult to tell what’s going on. There are touches that I really like about the movie; the use of color coding to help us separate the good guys from the bad guys is well done, as is the design for David Warner’s desk with a built-in computer in its jet-black top. Fortunately, for the most part, the eye candy is enough to hold the interest here, and for what it’s worth, I like the movie a lot more than I like the video-game it inevitably spawned.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Article 4894 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-8-2015
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Featuring Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Allen Danziger
Country: USA
What it is: A brutal nightmare

After encountering a psychotic hitchhiker, a group of friends run short of gas and visit an isolated home in the hope of buying some. They chose the wrong house to visit…

Due to the exploitative title and the movie’s reputation, I could barely watch the screen the first time I saw this one. Even then, I could appreciate that this was one of the most intense and harrowing horror films I’ve encountered. It isn’t the blood and gore that’s extreme (for the subject matter, it’s actually pretty light on that content); it’s the jarring use of sound, the plethora of visual images that project a sense of sickness, decay and decrepitude even when you’re not sure what you’re looking at, the utter sense of hopelessness and dread, and the fact that when the murders do occur, you’re not quite prepared for them. Hooper makes good use of the opening thirty minutes of the movie; though not much is happening (save the incident with the hitchhiker), he uses the time to build the needed sense of apprehension, especially through the use of a continuing radio report about a body-snatching at a graveyard. Reportedly, the actual shoot of the movie was grueling and stress-inducing, and that sense comes across in the finished product. The movie does live up to its reputation, but it’s always a bit exhausting to actually watch it.

Haunted Cafe (1911)

aka Das verzauberte Cafe
Article 4893 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-7-2015
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: Germany
What it is: Comic trick film

A man falls asleep in a restaurant and dreams that bizarre things are happening.

By 1911, this sort of trick short was old hat. It’s basically the usual shtick; furniture disappearing and moving around, people and things appearing out of nowhere and changing into other people and things, etc. Nevertheless, there is something that sets this one apart, and that is the performance by the lead actor. Rather than just watching or being a part of the bizarre occurrences, he actually reacts to them in a comic fashion as if they’re really happening, which, given the number of trick effects, is a pretty impressive feat. His performance gives an extra lift to the concept to make this one quite enjoyable. This is another one just rescued from my “ones that got away” list.

Swamp Thing (1982)

Article 4892 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-6-2015
Directed by Wes Craven
Featuring Louis Jourdan, Adrienne Barbeau, Ray Wise
Country: USA
What it is: Comic book thriller

A brilliant scientist develops a formula for an aggressive form of plant life. When an evil genius tries to get the formula, the scientist becomes doused with the formula and turns into a powerful half man/half plant that roams the swamp.

This movie doesn’t have much of a reputation, but in terms of low-budget spectacle, it’s watchable; it managed to hold my attention throughout its running time. The swamp locations are the best thing about the movie; they’re colorful, atmospheric, and wonderful to look at. The Swamp Thing’s rubber suit looks like a rubber suit, but I can forgive that. The worst thing about the movie is the lazy and uninspired script; it’s full of bad pieces of dialogue, clumsy pieces of business and plot holes, and the story is a bit thin for its running time. As a result, we spend most of the middle of the movie having Adrienne Barbeau running around the swamp pursued by bad guys and being rescued by the Swamp Thing, with the occasional long-winded speech given by Louis Jourdan, who fancies himself a genius while not proving himself one. The climax of the movie is particularly weak, with Swamp Thing having an unmemorable battle with another monster. Ultimately, it’s the scenery that steals the movie (which includes Barbeau’s own natural assets). A sequel popped up several years later. I hope it had a better story.