Return to Oz (1964)

Article 2169 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-22-2007
Posting Date: 7-21-2007
Directed by F. R. Craley, Thomas Glynn and Larry Roemer
Featuring the voices of Larry D. Mann, Alfie Scopp, Carl Banas

Dorothy is whisked back to Oz where she must contend with the revived Wicked Witch of the West and help her friends once again regain the prizes they got from the wizard.

One of the problems I had with PINOCCHIO IN OUTER SPACE was its attempt to clone as much of the plot of the original movie version as it could for a sequel; in general, if a sequel can do little more than repeat the original, it seems unnecessary. This one is even worse; Dorothy is whisked to Oz on a tornado, meets the munchkins and Glenda the Good Witch, and embarks on a quest to find her friends and take them to the emerald city to get a heart, a brain, and courage. From the emerald city they are sent to face the witch, etc. etc. Despite the fact that this is an early Rankin/Bass feature, I find it pretty charmless in comparison to their more famous holiday movies, and the extremely limited animation and the bad songs (when was the last time you hummed “I Wanna Go Back”?) really make this one a chore to watch. The most amusing variation it adds to the story is having the witch send flying crocodiles rather than flying monkeys to capture Dorothy. Fortunately, since it was made for TV, it is fairly short.


The Return of the Ape Man (1944)

Article #116 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-10-2001
Posting date: 11-23-2001

While experimenting with suspended animation, a scientist revives an ape man found in the polar regions, and decides to give it half a new brain in order for him to communicate with it.

For me, this was by far the goofiest of the Monogram horrors Bela Lugosi made during the forties. Despite the title, it has nothing to do with the earlier Monogram movie THE APE MAN. The fun starts with the opening newspaper headline, which talks about the disappearance of a “noted wino” (those may not be the exact words, but you get the gist), which makes me wonder just how slow a news day this was.

This also backs up my earlier claim that in the Monogram horrors, Bela Lugosi was apt to do things the hard way. In order to prove the effectiveness of his suspended animation process, he decides that he needs to find an ape man frozen in a block of ice for thousands of years; what is amazing is that he actually manages to find one. He replaces half the brain of the ape man with half the brain of John Carradine, and ends up with an ape man who not only murders, but can play the piano.

George Zucco was originally supposed to play the ape man, but Frank Moran took over when Zucco backed out; this was a wise decision for Zucco, because this is the movie with the infamous scene where, when the ape man exits the lab through a high window, you get a clear view of…uh…well, whatever is under his animal skin. There are some who believe he’s not wearing anything underneath (which would most likely have been historically accurate), but my print isn’t clear enough to verify this; let us hope, in this case, that historical accuracy was not in force here, and we’re seeing nothing more than the ape man’s BVDs.

The Wiz (1978)

THE WIZ (1978)
Article 4538 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-19-2014
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Featuring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell
Country: USA
What it is: Soul version of THE WIZARD OF OZ

A 24-year-old schoolteacher finds herself swept up by a winter tornado into the land of Oz, where she comes into the possession of silver slippers. She seeks a great wizard to help her return home.

I think three things were important in the shaping of this musical. The first was to make a soul all-black version of the Oz story. I have no problem with this idea, and since Motown produced the movie, at least there were some authentic soul music roots involved in the making of this (though if I’d had my druthers, I would have been much more interested in what George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic would have made of the story). The second was to use authentic New York locations to portray Oz; I suspect this would be most satisfying for those who either live in or are enamored of New York City, but I’m neither. The third is something I read in the trivia section of IMDB, and I think it may be the thing that is most responsible for how the movie turned out; apparently the scriptwriter was into est (Erhard Seminars Training), and the philosophies of that movement were incorporated into much of the story. I suspect this explains the preponderance of songs in the movie about “believing in yourself” that bring the story to a screeching halt. And therein lies my biggest problem with this movie. The 1939 version of THE WIZARD OF OZ is a model of how to incorporate musical numbers into a story; the songs are short, catchy, and advance the story. The musical numbers here are long-winded and stop the story short; I could easily jettison all of Diana Ross’s ballads, Lena Horne’s number, and the big dance numbers (when they get to Oz and when the Winkies are freed) because they are all unnecessary and boring. As for the rest of the movie, I’m afraid I found the manifestation of the ideas more cute than interesting, with an occasional foray into the totally bizarre (the whole subway sequence, for example). But I often found myself utterly bored, and that’s something I’ve never been by the 1939 version of the movie.

Jack Frost (1965)

aka Morozko
Article 3908 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-16-2012
Posting Date: 4-26-2012
Directed by Aleksandr Rou
Featuring Aleksandr Khvylya, Natalya Sedykh, Eduard Izotov
Country: Soviet Union
What it is: Fairy tale

A young man meets and falls in love with a young woman, but the path of true love does not run smooth. The young man is given the head of a bear by a mushroom, and must learn humility to return to normal, while the girl is tormented by an evil stepmother and then abandoned in a forest in the middle of winter. Can the two lovers find happiness?

This is one bizarre fairy tale. The plot involves a magic mushroom man, a grandfatherly personification of winter, a witch that lives in a hut with chicken legs, a gang of bandits, a pig that turns into a sled, and ambulatory trees, to start with. It’s all thrown together with a manic energy that leaves your head swimming. The music is equally bizarre, but I can actually say it didn’t annoy me, and I think leaving the lyrics in some of the songs in Russian rather than translating them into English was a good idea. As a result of the movie’s strangeness (and also because the movie was featured on MST3K), the movie is often dismissed in this country as merely bad, but I prefer to not look at it that way. I myself get the feeling that the movie is steeped in fairy tales of another culture; for one thing, I DO recognize the character of Baba Yaga, who I recognized as a common folklore character in certain cultures. In the end, there’s an air of authenticity to this movie that makes it an interesting watch, and I suspect that it relies on archetypes from another culture that can’t be easily translated.

The Strangers Gundown (1969)

aka Django il bastardo
Article 3885 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-25-2012
Posting Date: 4-3-2012
Directed by Sergio Garrone
Featuring Anthony Steffen, Paolo Gozlino, Luciano Rossi
Country: Italy
What it is: Spooky spaghetti western

A man is gunning down three former confederate officers who betrayed their regiment. He is recognized as one of the soldiers of the regiment who was believed to be dead. Has he returned from the grave…?

One of these days, I’m going to go through all of my Mill Creek fifty movie sets to see just how many of them contain movies that I’ve covered in my series. I expect quite a few from those with fantastic themes, but there are a few that seem less likely to yield any. However, thanks to this entry, I was able to dip into my Spaghetti Western set. The fantastic content of this one centers around the possibility of the avenger (named Django) being a vengeful spirit from the grave. Is he? The movie does more or less answer the question before it’s all over, though I think the fact that this is the only Django movie I’ve covered so far should give you a bit of hint as to that. The movie certainly plays up the supernatural angle, especially with his ability to seemingly appear out of nowhere. Still, this seems to be pretty standard spaghetti western fare; it’s moody enough, but it gets fairly confusing in the middle of the movie, and of course, there’s plenty of gunplay. You wouldn’t think so, what with only three officers as targets, but there’s more henchmen than you can shake a stick at, and they’re always good for upping the body count. By the way, I didn’t forget the apostrophe; the people who came up with the opening credits did.

Night of the Death Cult (1975)

aka La noche de las gaviatos, The Night of the Seagulls

Article 3648 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-26-2011
Posting Date: 8-10-2011
Directed by Amando de Ossorio
Featuring Victor Petit, Maria Kosty, Sandra Mozarowsky
Country: Spain
What it is: Blind Dead movie

A doctor and his wife move their practice to a small coastal village whose residents treat them with open hostility. It is soon discovered they have a secret; they have been leaving young women of the village to be sacrificed by a cult of the undead.

When I saw THE RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD, I took issue with the way Amando de Ossorio had changed the rules that dictated the actions of his undead minions from the first movie in the series. Now, having just seen the fourth (I have yet to see the third), I’ve come to the conclusion that he actually did something very interesting with this series; rather than having each movie follow the other in a logical succession, he seemed more interested in varying those rules and putting the blind dead in different environments. It ends up feeling more like “variations on a theme”, which keeps the movies in the series from becoming increasingly stagnant repeats of each other; each one feels different. I quite like this take on it; though it’s made of very familiar elements (the hostile village with a secret is hardly an original concept), it’s interesting to see the changes made to the blind dead to make it work in this context. Furthermore, the movie is quite well dubbed, and as always, there is something genuinely eerie in seeing those zombies trotting around in slow motion on their horses. My favorite scene has one of the zombies set on fire, but who then attempts to make one more attack before being consumed. I have to admit I’m looking forward to seeing the third in the series.

Day of the Animals (1977)

Article 3610 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-18-2011
Posting Date: 7-3-2011
Directed by William Girdler
Featuring Christopher George, Leslie Nielsen, Lynda Day George
Country: USA
What it is: Nature runs amok

A group of vacationers takes a hike in the mountains, unaware of the fact that the depleted ozone layer has started to make the animals act hostile.

Director William Girdler had previously given us the JAWS-ripoff GRIZZLY; here he returns once again to the killer animals theme, this time widening the range somewhat to include birds, bears, wolves, dogs, snakes, rats, etc. It doesn’t seem to be borrowing from any one movie in particular; there’s a bit of FROGS, a bit of THE BIRDS, a bit of WILLARD. If anything, it owes more of its structure to the Disaster Movie genre. The movie is fairly predictable and seems to be written to order, but I will give it a little credit for at least venturing into the possibility that the same madness that infected the animals might also infect the humans, but it really doesn’t go far with the idea, nor does it ever really ask why the animals don’t become more vicious to each other rather than just to humans. The ending has the air of the movie trying to have it both ways. All in all, it’s uninspired but mildly entertaining.

Blue Demon vs el poder satanico (1966)

aka Blue Demon vs. the Satanical Power
Article 2822 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-28-2009
Posting Date: 5-5-2009
Directed by Chano Urueta
Featuring Alejandro Munoz Moreno, Marta Elena Cervantes, Jaime Fernandez
Country: Mexico

A man with Satanical powers avoids execution by putting himself into a cataleptic state. Fifty years later he is resurrected, and returns to his evil ways by using his mystical powers to seduce and murder women. However, he must deal with the powers of a heroic Mexican wrestler…

For a movie which I’ve seen only in an unsubtitled Spanish-language version, this one is fairly easy to follow. This isn’t necessarily a compliment; the reason it’s so easy to follow is because there’s so little to it. The opening scenes are the best, but once the villain begins his seductive reign of terror, the movie begins padding itself excessively. The movie runs about 75 minutes, but we have four (count ’em, four) wrestling sequences, one of which doesn’t even feature Blue Demon, but his friend (and already established movie star) Santo. We have three sequences where the villain seduces women. We have scenes of Blue Demon pursuing his career as a crimefighter; unfortunately, these mostly consist of him sitting around reading books. In fact, Blue Demon doesn’t lift a finger to battle the villain until the villain decides to use his Satanic powers to try to force Blue Demon to commit suicide. Only then does Blue Demon swing into action, but even this is a disappointment, because… well, I won’t give away the ending, but let me just say that if it weren’t for the wrestling sequences, there wouldn’t be any action scenes in the movie. This one is bad even by Mexican wrestler movie standards.

Psychopath (1969)

Article #1200 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-27-2004
Posting Date: 11-24-2004
Directed by Guido Zurli
Featuring George Martin, Ingric Schoeller, Karin Field

A thief whose modus operandi is to rob other thieves during their robbery attempts, and then to return the stolen merchandise to the owners (minus his ten percent) faces off with Scotland Yard while attempting to profit from the theft of a jewel known as the Eye of Allah.

Adventures in moviehunting: According to the source from which I compiled this movie, it’s supposed to be about a psychiatrist who discovers that his girlfriend’s ex-husband is a murderer. Maybe there’s a Klaus Kinski film out there that actually tells such a story, but if there is, it isn’t this one, even if the credits listed in the entry clearly point to this movie. In fact, the movie is badly named; there’s not even a psychopath to be found here, and though the picture on the tape case shows a threatening and glowering face of Klaus Kinski hovering over a bunch of uniformed police and a gun pointed directly at the viewer, in truth, Kinski plays the servant to the main criminal, and merely helps him on occasion. I smell deceptive marketing at work here.

So what is this movie? It’s an Italian super-criminal movie, and a fairly fun one. I’m not sure it really fits the genre; it’s noticeably short on gadgetry, and the only thing I can find that might remotely put it in the realm of science fiction is the alarm system used to guard the Eye of Allah. It’s actually a highly amusing movie; it has a strong sense of humor, an interesting premise (check the above plot description for the criminals modus operandi), and actually name-drops James Bond several times during the proceedings. It’s enjoyable in its own right; why they chose to market it as some sort of psychopath movie is beyond me.

Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1941)

Article #1056 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-4-2004
Posting Date: 7-3-2004
Directed by John English and William Witney
Featuring Ralph Byrd, Michael Owen, Jan Wiley

Dick Tracy tries to discover the identity of a criminal called The Ghost who is doing away with members of a city crime council.

There are four Dick Tracy serials in this series; I’ve covered the first two (DICK TRACY, DICK TRACY RETURNS) but have yet to see the third. This, the fourth, dispenses with Mike McGurk and Junior, and you know, I don’t miss them a bit. For one thing, the villain in this one has the power to turn invisible, giving the movie a much stronger science fiction element, and also giving Tracy his most interesting foe. The opening cliffhanger is a doozy, but I would expect that of any cliffhanger that borrowed footage from DELUGE. In fact, there seems to be quite a bit of borrowed footage; several of the action sequences seem awfully familiar, and there are some recognizable moments from the other Tracy serials. Still, I’d rather have it do that than borrow footage from itself for one of those “remember-when-we-started-on-this-case” reminiscences that pop up in these serials occasionally. Incidentally, I thought episode six did an exemplary job of pacing its non-stop action, and the final fight scene is done in negative photography, which makes it a lot of fun. I definitely prefer this to the two others that I’ve seen of the series.