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.

Brain 17 (1982)

BRAIN 17 (1982)
Article 4970 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-27-2015
Directed by Michael Part
Featuring Masahiro Kamiya, Tadao Nakamaru, Akihiko Hirata
Country: USA / Japan
What it is: TV-Movie edited from Japanese kiddie action series

A supercomputer called Brain goes rogue and creates robots to take over the world. However, one of the robots takes the side of good, and with the help of a child, takes on Brain.

Within ten seconds of this movie starting, I pegged the movie as one of those TV-Movies culled from episodes of a hyperactive Japanese kiddie action series about giant dueling robots. The special effects are bottom of the barrel for this sort of thing, you could do better dubbing in your own home, the dialogue is beyond goofy (“I’ve got a plan, and it’s a humdinger of a doozy!”), and the robots (a giant steamroller robot, a fire-breathing robot dragon, a hurricane robot that looks like a giant pinwheel, and a big jack-hammer robot) are ridiculous. It’s basically a variation on “Ultraman”. Yes, it’s awful, but it hits me in my soft spot; I can’t help but grin, shake my head, and just get lost in the nonsense. I love this sort of thing, but if you don’t, you’re liable to end up with a headache. It’s easily the funniest thing I’ve seen in a couple of weeks. Incidentally, the TV series from which it was culled is DAITETSUJIN WAN-SEBUN.

The Demon (1981)

THE DEMON (1981)
Article 4969 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-26-2016
Directed by Percival Rubens
Featuring Jennifer Holmes, Cameron Mitchell, Craig Gardner
Country: South Africa / Netherlands
What it is: Slasher film

A killer with a clawed glove who likes to strangle people with plastic bags is on the loose.

Usually when I see Cameron Mitchell’s name in the credits, I suspect two things. One is that the movie is not going to be very good. The other is that Mitchell will probably be the best thing about it. That’s how I feel about this one. The fact that he is a psychic who is hired to track down the killer made me suspect this was another of the many “serial killer versus psychic” movies I’ve encountered. Unfortunately (though I may be supplying a spoiler here), that particular plot thread ends so abruptly that I rather suspect that it only exists to pad out what is in most other respects only an imitation of HALLOWEEN. As far as I can tell, the most famous thing about this movie is that during the climactic chase scene, the heroine of the movie is topless. Those impressed by that detail are welcome to hunt up the movie; the rest of you need to be aware that most of the movie seems more concerned with the uninteresting love lives of a pair of schoolteachers. It generates little in the way of suspense. This was a singularly dull way for me to spend a Sunday afternoon.

DEFCON-4 (1985)

DEFCON-4 (1985)
aka Def-Con 4
Article 4968 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-25-2015
Directed by Paul Donovan, Digby Cook and Tony Randel
Featuring Lenore Zann, Maury Chaykin, Kate Lynch
Country: Canada
What it is: After-the-Apocalypse action

A trio of astronauts on a secret NORAD defense satellite witness nuclear holocaust, but are forced to land back on the earth. They become prisoners of a gang of punks who are after their food and trying to find a haven of safety.

Well, I will give the movie this much; at least it just doesn’t come off like an imitation of the Mad Max movies or other post-apocalyptic movies of the period. That’s not to say that there isn’t some influences to be found; for example, having the main villain wear an earring is at least a mild nod in that direction. The trouble is that the movie never really develops much of a real identity of its own; it’s not directed with much flair, and it’s only adequately acted. There’s some interesting ideas in the script; I liked the idea of one of the astronauts seeing a one-way transmission from his wife in which she confides with him that her way of coping with his absence is to believe that he’s already dead, and this could have been a powerful scene if the movie were better. As it is, it’s not much fun as either an action movie or in any real visual sense. At least part of the problem is that our “heroic” main character is actually a bit of a worm; it’s rather hard to root for him. Still, I think the movie is a little bit better than its reputation would have you believe.

Death Car on the Freeway (1979)

Article 4967 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-25-2015
Directed by Hal Needham
Featuring Shelley Hack, Frank Gorshin, Peter Graves
Country: USA
What it is: TV-Movie thriller

A maniac is loose on the freeway, forcing cars being driven by beautiful women into having accidents. An ambitious female reporter tries to get to the bottom of it.

Hal Needham was a stunt man turned director who specialized in light-hearted action fare with lots of stunts and car crashes and usually starring Burt Reynolds. As a director, I’ve only encountered him once before in this series with the dismal MEGAFORCE; if this movie is better than that one, bear in mind that it didn’t take much to be so. Actually, it’s interesting to see him try for a straightforward thriller rather than a comic one, and if there’s one thing the movie does well, it’s the car-driving stunt work on display here. Most of the rest of the movie is pretty bad; there’s a lot of name stars in forgettable cameos and a lot of tiresome time is spent on the reporter’s relationship with her sexist ex-lover/husband (I’m not sure which) played by George Hamilton. He’s so obnoxious that I found myself wondering whether he would end up to be the killer; as it is, you never see the latter’s face. Technically, the movie should be called DEATH VAN ON THE FREEWAY, but then, I would have had real trouble identifying the killer’s trademark music as “bluegrass” or even that it was being played on a fiddle; it almost sounds like avant-garde electronic garble. Nevertheless, the movie does hold the interest and is fairly exciting, and it also features a memorable cameo from Sid Haig. Actually, it’s not too bad for a TV-Movie. The movie’s fantastic content is that it is, of course, a variation on the serial killer theme.