Kuroneko (1968)

KURONEKO (1968)
aka Yabu no naka no kuroneko, Black Cat
Article 3815 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-14-2012
Posting Date: 1-24-2012
Directed by Kaneto Shindo
Featuring Kichiemon Nakamura, Nobuko Otowa, Kiwako Taichi
Country: Japan
What it is: Ghosts and samurais

A man, taken away to fight in the wars, becomes a samurai after defeating a terrible enemy. He is sent on a mission to destroy monsters who are killing and drinking the blood of samurai warriors. He discovers the monsters are ghosts of his wife and mother, who have sworn to drink the blood of all samurais.

I’ve seen enough of these type of Japanese horror movies that they don’t seem quite as novel as they used to be for me. As a result, this one didn’t startle me quite as much as it might have done had I seen it earlier. Nevertheless, I think it’s a very solid movie, and it anchors itself in fascinating dramatic problem in which the samurai must choose between the honor of his profession and his love for his family, while the ghosts also have the same issue, with a conflict between their oath to the evil gods and their love for their son/husband. This tragic air is what gives the movie its extra power, and, like several other Japanese horror movies of this type, it has some wonderful imagery. This one is recommended.

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Out of the Devil’s Reach (1959)

OUT OF THE DEVIL’S REACH (1959)
aka Kam cert nemuze, Where the Devil Cannot Go
Article 3814 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-13-2012
Posting Date: 1-23-2012
Directed by Zdenek Podskalsky
Featuring Miroslav Hornicek, Jana Hlavacova, Vlastimil Brodsky
Country: Czechoslovakia
What it is: Faustian romantic comedy

A physician suffering from ennui finds himself followed by a woman who may be an incarnation of Mephistopheles and who wants his soul.

You know, there are some movies where it’s simply maddening to try to avoid plot spoilers, especially when those spoilers play a major role in defining the fantastic content of a movie, which is one of the main things I hope to touch upon in these reviews. Such is the case here, but I’m going to try to discuss it without letting the cat out of the bag in its entirety. Suffice it to say that the movie’s initial premise concerning a man tempted to sell his soul to the devil is a smokescreen for what is really going on. Still, there is a bit of spookiness to a couple of scenes, and there’s just a touch of ambiguity in the reappearance of a black cat at certain times in the story. Still, the movie is primarily a comedy, and a pretty strange one at that; it’s amusing enough, but will leave your head swimming at times. Outside of the Faustian parallels, the only other content that could be called even the least bit fantastic is that it flirts just a little bit with the theme of madness, though this flirtation never really ventures into real horror territory. This one is odd, but not uninteresting, and it’s a nice change of pace from what I’ve been watching recently.

Meteor (1979)

METEOR (1979)
Article 3813 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-12-2012
Posting Date: 1-22-2012
Directed by Ronald Neame
Featuring Sean Connery, Natalie Wood, Karl Malden
Country: USA
What it is: Disaster movie

A comet hits an asteroid, causing a huge piece of it to break off and head on a collision course with Earth. The only way to keep the meteor from hitting the Earth is to use nuclear weapons aboard satellites that aren’t legally supposed to be there. Can the Americans and Russians come to an agreement to save the world?

I went into this one expecting the worst, but I found myself enjoying it a lot more than I expected. Which is not to say that it doesn’t have its problems; for example, Connery’s character has a very bad case of Mamet Dammit (i.e. painfully bad cussing), and the movie occasionally gives into its worst melodramatic impulses, with the result that certain scenes are truly embarrassing. Yet I like the fact that, in comparison with other disaster movies, it keeps the soap opera aspects in check; they’re there, but kept to a minimum. I also actively enjoyed the game of diplomatic chess between the Russians and the Americans in which they jockey for a way for each side to save face to ensure cooperation. I also like the fact that the movie was aware of the dramatic problem of having the big climax involve a lot of waiting for something to happen, and got around that by dovetailing a secondary crisis to keep the movie from getting too tedious towards the end. Still, it does have a major problem in that some of its special effects aren’t up to snuff; the splinter meteors look more like glowing lights, and, despite the wealth of explosions, the climax doesn’t have a whole lot of bang to it. But as far as movies go, I’ve seen a lot worse… and some of it very recently.

Megaforce (1982)

MEGAFORCE (1982)
Article 3812 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-11-2012
Posting Date: 1-21-2012
Directed by Hal Needham
Featuring Barry Bostwick, Michael Beck, Persis Khambatta
Country: USA / Hong Kong
What it is: Loud and busy

A military group called Megaforce uses the most advanced technology the free world can muster to combat evil. This means they can blow lots of things up. They are sent to catch a band of revolutionaries who are also good at blowing things up. Unfortunately, their mission backfires when they are left stranded in a foreign country because their actions (which involved blowing things up) have created an international incident. Can they escape by blowing more things up?

Director Hal Needham was one of the highest paid stuntmen of Hollywood before he turned to directing. I was dragged to see his first directorial effort SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT by a friend who insisted it was one of the greatest and funniest movies ever made. I was very far from impressed (and still wonder if there is a cult out there who thinks that hearing Jackie Gleason cuss up a blue streak is the epitome of great comedy). Sorting the ratings on IMDB, that appears to be Needham’s best movie; so what am I going to think of this one, which ranks as his worst? Well, let me try to recreate the experience. Please imagine a soulless eighties action soundtrack playing underneath all of this.

Opening credits. Bad comedy. Corny comedy. Explosions. More explosions. More bad comedy. Stunts. Bad comedy. Romance. Comic inventor character type. Stunts. Explosions. More explosions. More bad comedy. Stunts. Explosions. Explosions. Stunts. More bad comedy. Catchphrase. Stunts. Unbelievable final stunt. Obligatory hint that a sequel is forthcoming. Ending credits.

Final notes – Megaforce’s advanced technology is the fantastic content. No sequel. End of story.

Lila (1968)

LILA (1968)
aka Mantis in Lace
Article 3811 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-10-2012
Posting Date: 1-20-2012
Directed by William Rotsler
Featuring Susan Stewart, Steve Vincent, James Brand
Country: USA
What it is: Exploitation movie disguised as psycho killer movie

A topless dancer starts taking acid and has bad trips, during which she kills and dismembers her lovers. Police investigate.

I could say the plot is threadbare, but that would be missing the point; to make the plot more elaborate would have cut in on the extensive footage of topless dancers that fills up most of the running time of the movie. I saw it coming when I saw Harry Novak’s name during the opening credits. Our psycho kills with screwdrivers and a cleaver, usually yelling things like “keep away” while she’s having a bad trip. She’s not the sharpest pin in the sewing basket, but neither are the cops that are on her case. Those who love exploitation and lots of skin will like this one best; those who enjoy snatches of hilarious dialogue will also find a use for it. Other than that, the best thing I can say about this is that it has a modicum of wit. And remember – When you’re tripping on acid, you have to say “Oh, wow!” a lot. As far as I know, the title song was not a hit, neither in the short version or the extended album version that gets a lot airplay during the movie.

The Magus (1968)

THE MAGUS (1968)
Article 3810 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-9-2012
Posting Date: 1-19-2012
Directed by Guy Green
Featuring Michael Caine, Anthony Quinn, Candice Bergen
Country: UK
What it is: Fantasy/drama

An unhappy English schoolteacher who has come to Greece meets a mysterious man on an island, possibly a magician of sorts. The man takes the teacher on a journey of understanding through the use of a series of role-playing games.

I’ve not read the novel on which this movie is based, but, based on what I see here, I would venture to say it’s one of those that cannot be easily translated into another medium. The ambiguous nature of the “magic” of the title character makes the fantastic content here fairly elusive, but this isn’t the first time we’ve been in territory like this. This is one of those movies that doesn’t parse out easily (if at all), so I can’t say at this point whether this movie will call me back for more exploration or whether it might not even make me search out the novel on which it is based. I can say this much though; on a certain gut level, I sense that this movie more or less hangs together, and there are some very memorable scenes. Perhaps the most powerful of these scenes involves a flashback to World War II and tells the story of the title character as a younger man forced to serve as a mayor of the small town during the German occupation, and who must make a horrible decision when some members of the resistance kill some German soldiers, setting in motion a nightmarish sequence of events. In the end, you’re never quite sure what was real and what was fantasy and illusion, but, to the movie’s credit, it never really made me feel as if it would be explained. The acting is very good throughout, with Candice Bergen showing a vast improvement over her work in THE DAY THE FISH CAME OUT, which also took place on a Greek island.

Magic Serpent (1966)

MAGIC SERPENT (1966)
aka Kairyu daikessen
Article 3809 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-8-2012
Posting Date: 1-18-2012
Directed by Tetsuya Yamauchi
Featuring Hiroki Matsukata, Tomoko Ogawa, Ryutaro Otomo
Country: Japan
What it is: Fantasy with monsters

A usurper combines forces with a traitorous sorcerer to murder the ruler and take his throne. The ruler’s son survives, and is trained by a master magician to seek revenge.

This Japanese giant monster movie is more in the vein of the Majin movies than with the Godzilla/Gamera movies; it’s a period piece in which the monsters play roles in the final battle between good and evil. We have a giant dragon, a giant frog, and a giant spider before it’s all through; the giant dragon also appears early in the movie. Still, that doesn’t mean the fantastic content is restricted to either end of the movie; there’s a lot of content involving magic, including a rather memorable sequence involving swirling doors. The special effects aren’t always quite up to par, but the movie moves along at a nice clip, there’s an interesting array of characters, and overall I found it quite enjoyable. I’m sure Godzilla fans will recognize the dragon’s roar.