Dark Mansions (1986)

Article 4980 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-6-2015
Directed by Jerry London
Featuring Joan Fontaine, Michael York, Paul Shenar
Country: USA
What it is: TV-Movie Gothic thriller

A writer stays on the estate of the Drake family to write a family history, but she ends up resembling the wife of one of the men of the family… who died under mysterious circumstances.

I suppose this is a Gothic thriller of sorts; there’s a couple of eerie events, a hint of precognition in one of the characters, and possibly a ghost (or at least, disembodied laughter). However, it seems to me that the focus is really on the internal power struggles of a family of rich and beautiful people, and I suspect that the movie is best appreciated by people who love that sort of thing; in other words, it’s a lot more for the soap opera crowd than the horror crowd. Since I’m not part of that crowd, I found the movie tiresome; I was especially annoyed by the hair-trigger musical score that goes off every time it wants to underline how important or significant a moment is (such as pointing out that a two-person encounter has been observed by a third person), which would have been more effective if it didn’t go off every two minutes or so. I think it would have worked better if its crowning dramatic moment had actually been included in the movie rather than having been consigned to a “killed in Vietnam” style final freeze frame revelation, but I suppose they would have had to cut one of the scenes of the beautiful people in bed with each other in order to fit it in; after all, there must be priorities. As a horror movie, it falls flat; as a drama, it’s too soapy. This one didn’t work for me.

Las mujeres panteras (1967)

aka The Panther Women
Article 4979 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-5-2015
Directed by Rene Cardona
Featuring Ariadna Welter, Elizabeth Campbell, Yolanda Montes
Country: Mexico
What it is: Horror wrestling movie

The wrestling women face off against a Satanic cult that features several were-panthers and a crusty zombie.

This is another of the several Mexican “wrestling women” series, though it looks like the actress who played Gloria Venus has been replaced for this one. It also throws in a substitute Santo in the person of a wrestler called “El Angel”; if my notes are correct, this was a fictional wrestler created for this movie, though he was played by a real wrestler outside of his usual persona. As usual, the wrestling women have their boyfriends in tow, including one of them played by Manuel “Loco” Valdes; he plays the comic relief, of course, but I don’t recall him having been in the other wrestling women movies either. My copy is in Spanish without English subtitles, but in these types of movies, the plot usually doesn’t matter a whole lot. This one is a little on the dull side; it has the usual amount of wrestling for these types of movies, but it’s a little thin on the monster action, and the pace is rather slow. In general, the Santo and Blue Demon movies were a lot more fun.

Los fantasmas burlones (1965)

aka The Ghost Jesters
Article 4978 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-4-2015
Directed by Rafael Baledon
Featuring Antonio Espino, German Valdes, Adalberto Martinez
Country: Mexico
What it is: Demented ghost comedy

Two carnival hucksters with a mysticism racket accidentally conjure forth two real ghosts.

I was only able to find this in Spanish without English subtitles, so I can’t really go into plot details. However, much of what is going on is visually oriented, and I can attest to the fact that it appears to me to be one of the most demented and energetic Mexican comedies that I’ve ever seen. It has two groups of comedians; Antonio Espino (“Clavillazo”) and Adalberto Martinez (“Resortes”) play the hucksters, while the Valdes brothers (German “Tin-Tan” and Manuel “Loco”) play the ghosts. The movie is packed with sight gags and musical numbers, including a few jaw-dropping (if politically incorrect) ones featuring the ghosts appearing in various guises. It’s consistently amusing and positively surreal on occasion. It even features stock footage from ONE MILLION B.C., including part of the fight between Ignatz and Rumsford, so if anyone out there is keeping track of which movies use that footage, here’s another one for you. I can honestly say I was never bored with this one, and for a movie that has no English dubbing or subtitles, that’s saying a lot. Still, it helps if you have a taste for broad comedy.

The Magic Extinguisher (1901)

Article 4977 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-3-2015
Directed by James Williamson
Featuring Sam Dalton
Country: UK
What it is: Magic trick film

A magician makes animals disappear and reappear with a large cone.

Here’s another imitation of the Melies magic trick shorts, minus Melies of course. Unfortunately, that also means it’s missing Melies’s wonderful backdrops and his exuberant theatricality, and though Sam Dalton makes a game effort at the magician here, he doesn’t quite have the charisma of his model. There is a bit of novelty in the fact that living animals are used as part of the illusions, but that’s about all that really sets this one apart.

Der Kongress Amusiert Sich (1966)

aka The Congress of Love
Article 4976 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-2-2015
Directed by Geza von Radvanyi
Featuring Lilli Palmer, Curd Jurgens, Paul Meurisse
Country: West Germany / Austria / France
What it is: Historical comedy

After the Napoleonic Wars, a congress is convened by the various nations to restore the balance of power. The various members of the congress engage in political manipulation and interact with their lovers.

The fantastic content in this movie manifests itself early in the movie; the action opens in a modern-day wax museum where the figure of Prince Metternich comes to life and then walks into the past where most of the action of the movie takes place. The end of the movie also takes place in the present, and there is a fleeting moment in the middle which also bridges the past and the present; this one almost got by me until it hit me that automobiles weren’t period. Whether this time transition is a cinematic trick or is inherent to the story thematically is a question I can’t answer; the only copy of the movie I’ve been able to find is in German without English subtitles. Given the subject matter, I’m not sure whether the subtitles would have helped or not; I suspect that it would be necessary to have a solid grounding in the historical place, time and characters of the action to appreciate it. It seems to be well produced; the sets and costumes are quite impressive, and there’s a lot of music to the story (including one of the more obvious comic touches involving a badly played string bass). But I found it impossible to follow the story, and its 5.0 rating on IMDB doesn’t exactly make it sound that it’s really worth the effort to sort it out. It was a remake of a movie called THE CONGRESS DANCES, of which there were two versions. However, it does not appear that these earlier movie had any fantastic content to speak of.

Escape from the Bronx (1983)

aka Fuga dal Bronx
Article 4975 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-1-2015
Directed by Enzo G. Castellari
Featuring Mark Gregory, Henry Silva, Valeria D’Obici
Country: Italy
What it is: Action

It’s not after the apocalypse. A corrupt government in league with a corporation is performing a forced evacuation of the Bronx in order to build a new series of skyscrapers. They use brutal violence to evict those not willing to leave. The former gang members of the Bronx do battle with the corporation thugs.

The other side of Italian “after the Apocalypse” movies were those which were modeled more after ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK than from THE ROAD WARRIOR. This is one of those; it’s a sequel to 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS, and through it brings back the dull but pouty hero (who looks like a refugee from an eighties hair band), it lacks the star power of the earlier movie. The only name actor is Henry Silva, and to these eyes, he looks like he’s barely interested in anything going on around him. Most of the movie is a compendium of clumsy cursing, various people being mowed down by bullets, and explosions causing other people to somersault through the air. Those who like nonstop carnage will like this best; me, I just wish the hero had a single iota of charisma to make me care what happens to him, but such is not the case. And I don’t understand why the title is what it is when the main characters are trying their best to stay in the Bronx.

Dreams Come True (1984)

Article 4974 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-31-2015
Directed by Max Kalmanowicz
Featuring Michael Sanville, Stephanie Shuford, Ken Charlton
Country: USA
What it is: Independent fantasy drama

A young man discovers that he can undergo astral projection. He meets a woman who can share his talent, and they embark together on a series of adventures. However, there is a risk, and there may be a price to pay…

I’ve encountered this director once before; the only other movie he directed was THE CHILDREN, which I felt was pretty silly but did have some good points to it. That movie is referenced here when the two main characters go and see that movie at their local theater, and then they undergo an astral projection where they find themselves attacked by the children in a cave. What makes this sequence interesting is that they also encounter the girl’s abusive uncle in the same cave, juxtaposing the make-believe horrors with a real life horror. It’s touches like this which ultimately made me like this movie overall. It would be very easy to savage this movie; it’s littered with dramatic and romantic cliches, the acting isn’t particularly impressive, the music is weak, the shifts of mood (especially into comedy) are clumsy, and the general air of cheapness drags it down a bit. What redeems it is that there are enough real-life touches to the story that it achieves a certain amount of resonance despite its other problems. And when your two main characters can undergo experiences through astral projection, at least the romantic cliches have an understandable context to them.

Parsifal (1912)

Article 4973 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-30-2015
Directed by Mario Caserini
Featuring Mario Bonnard, Maria Caserini, Filippo Castamagna
Country: Italy
What it is: Arthurian quest

The story of Parsifal’s quest for the holy grail is told.

Here’s another title that ended up on my “ones that got away” list, but finally popped up on YouTube; it’s a silent film adaptation of an opera by Wagner. The copy I found had only Dutch intertitles, so I found it rather difficult to follow, so I read a summary of the story of the opera, and this fifty-minute movie obviously did a lot of condensation of the story. There’s quite a bit of fantastic content to be found, what with various mystical manifestations and the appearance of a couple of wizards who appear to be thwarting Parsifal in his quest. It’s hard to evaluate how effectively the story is told, but the visual elements are nicely done, and even with being unable to to follow the story fully, I found it entertaining.

Cannibal Apocalypse (1980)

aka Cannibals Are in the Streets, Apocalypse domani
Article 4972 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-30-2015
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Featuring John Saxon, Elizabeth Turner, Giovanni Lombardo Radice
Country: Italy / Spain
What it is: Movie about eating disorders

Three Vietnam vets return home infected with form of rabies which turns them and those they bite into cannibals.

Given the main title of this movie, it took me a little bit of time to come to terms with what this movie really was. The opening scene featuring helicopters flying over a jungle had me suspecting it was your typical Italian “encounter with a tribe of cannibals” movie, but this sequence turns out to involve the Vietnam war and quickly turns to a modern-day American city. Then I suspected it was going to be your typical “zombie apocalypse” movie; despite the fact that the infected people were not technically “zombies”, in practice there’s not inherently a lot of difference between them. However, the paucity of people infected never quite makes this pan out. It wasn’t until I was a ways into the movie that I realized what it was; it was a “disturbed Vietnam vet” movie with the cannibal/rabies angle grafted onto it. Though I will grant that this approach was unexpected and unusual, the end result isn’t particularly good; the action sequences adequate at best and confusing at worst, the movie’s gore content is relatively low for this sort of thing, and the movie is full of horrible dialogue with a plethora of awkward cursing. I think the latter problem may be due to the English dubbing; the actors who speak English normally (like John Saxon) fare well enough, but those that are dubbed have some awful lines. Saxon and Radice fare best acting-wise, but the story never really takes off, and overall it’s quite disappointing.

Doomsday Chronicles (1979)

Article 4971 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-28-2015
Directed by James Thornton
Featuring William Schallert, Linus Pauling, Daniel Ellsburg
Country: USA
What it is: Depressing doomsday documentary

This movie presents all the various ways that mankind can destroy itself in the near future.

Though the movie does discuss various apocalyptic visions that are natural (the death of the sun) and metaphysical (religious and prophetical predictions), these are pretty much side issues to its main theme; most of its running time is dedicated to destruction scenarios in which it is man himself who is responsible, including nuclear annihilation, pollution of all sorts, overpopulation, etc. It’s in the same basic style as all of those documentaries I’ve seen over the years involving cryptozoology, psychic phenomena and alien visitations, a circumstance that may make it seem a little less serious than it is. As can be expected, there is a lot of vagueness and an overuse of stock footage. The only time the movie really comes to life is when it goes into detailed coverage of a meltdown of a small nuclear power plant on an army base, emphasizing the relatively massive effort it took to deal with the crisis once it happened; it works because it’s not vague. After an hour and a half of this, it’s hard not to get a little depressed, and though it does try to instill some hope in the final minutes of the film, it’s assurances seem even vaguer than the rest of the movie. Quite frankly, I think the problem with the movie is it bites off more than it can chew; instead of trying to cover every scenario it could think of, it would have been better to address a specific problem in detail, both in terms of its dangers and its solutions. Perhaps the most comforting thing is that the movie picks the year of 1999 as the time when disaster will occur; the fact that this year passed sixteen years ago is the more encouraging than anything you’ll find in the movie.