The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980)

Article 2970 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-25-2009
Posting Date: 10-1-2009
Directed by Piers Haggard, Richard Quine and Peter Sellers
Featuring Peter Sellers, Helen Mirren, David Tomlinson

Dr. Fu Manchu seeks the ingredients for a secret potion that has kept him alive to the age of 168. However, Nayland Smith has come out of retirement to stop him.

Reportedly, Peter Sellers’s doctor warned him against making this movie due to his weak heart. Not only did Sellers make the movie (playing two roles and doing his own stunts), but he took over directorial reins after dismissing original director Piers Haggard. I can’t help but admire the man’s dedication; I just wish it had been at the service of a better movie than this one. Rather than a straightforward parody of the Fu Manchu stories (which wouldn’t have been a bad idea in itself), it instead attempts to be a quirky variation on the stories; unfortunately, the end result is strange, muddled and unfunny. I also feel uncomfortable watching Sellers’s’ performance on occasion here; there are times where his characters seem tired and ailing, and I’m not sure if I’m watching an actor’s choice, or Sellers’s own illness showing through. This would indeed prove to be Sellers’s last movie, and when one considers that his last movie would have been BEING THERE if this one had not been made, it makes it all that much sadder. The surprisingly good cast (which also features Sid Caesar) is sadly wasted.


Fear in the Night (1972)

Article 2969 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-24-2009
Posting Date: 9-30-2009
Directed by Jimmy Sangster
Featuring Judy Geeson, Joan Collins, Ralph Bates
Country: UK

A woman finds no one believes her when she is assaulted by someone with an artificial arm. When she moves into a cottage at a boys’ school with her husband, she is assaulted again, and once again she is not believed. Could someone at the school be responsible?

The acting is quite good from everyone here; Judy Geeson and Joan Collins do fine, fourth-billed Peter Cushing is excellent as usual, and Ralph Bates gives the best performance of his that I’ve seen so far. Unfortunately, it’s at the service of one of the most predictable scripts I’ve encountered in some time, and this is one of those stories that should be anything but predictable. For a while, I thought it was walking the well-trodden GASLIGHT path, but after a while it became apparent that the also over-traveled road of DIABOLIQUE was its real route. The less familiar you are with that movie (or its many imitations), the more likely it is you’ll like this one. Still, I must say I do like a few of the side touches, such as the backstories about the headmaster and the school; I only wish they had been put to the service of a less tired storyline.

The March Hare (1956)

Article 2968 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-23-2009
Posting Date: 9-29-2009
Directed by George More O’Ferrall
Featuring Peggy Cummins, Terence Morgan, Martita Hunt
Country: UK

A horse is capable of winning the derby if its secret word is whispered to it at the time of the race.

The magic word that makes the horse win the race comes from the leprechauns, but don’t strain your eyes waiting for them to show up; the closest we see of them is a distant glimmer of light. It’s a fairly slight premise for a movie, but then, it’s a fairly slight movie all around. It may be a little too British for me, though; some of the accents are a bit difficult to make out, and though it tries its damnedest to be cute and charming, it ends up rather bland and uninvolving. Most of the laughs center around the eccentric groom who is the only one who knows the word, and only if he’s been drinking. Most of the rest of the movie is concerned with the budding romance of the two leads. All in all, it’s a dull bit of fluff.

Fangs (1974)

FANGS (1974)
aka Snakes, Holy Wednesday
Article 2967 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-22-2009
Posting Date: 9-28-2009
Directed by Art Names
Featuring Les Tremayne, Janet Wood, Bebe Kelly
Country: USA

When the local snake fanatic Snakey Bender finds his Wednesday routine messed up by a series of individuals (including a preacher, a teacher, the proprietors of a general store and a gold digger), he vows revenge, and intends to use his slithery friends for help.

So what separates this snake movie from the likes of RATTLERS and STANLEY? I’d have to say it’s its sense of humor. Not that its sense of humor is particularly sophisticated, mind you – most of the laughs come from the bizarre rustic small-town types that inhabit the movie, with Snakey himself (played with perhaps too much gusto by Les Tremayne) one of the oddest of the lot, what with his snake obsession coupled with his love of Sousa marches. I suppose the movie is quite bad, but I was laughing too consistently to make that matter much to me. My favorite scenes include the opening, where we encounter perhaps the worst marching band in history, the scene where a three-way music battle ensues between a church choir, a country music radio station and a phonograph of marching music, the scenes where Snakey disposes of the bodies of his victims, and the hilarious final scene of revenge. It gets pretty kinky at times as well; wait until you discover the nature of the schoolteacher’s real relationship with Snakey. Chalk it up as a guilty pleasure.

Demon Seed (1982)

aka Satan’s Mistress, Dark Eyes
Article 2966 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-21-2009
Posting Date: 9-27-2009
Directed by James Polakof
Featuring Lana Wood, John Carradine, Tom Hallick
Country: USA

A woman whose marriage is on the rocks moves into a separate room from her husband and begins fantasizing about a ghost making love to her. However, it may not be a fantasy…

Lana Wood appears naked for several sections of this movie. I’m sure that’s enough to get some people running off to find copies of the movie; for those of us who don’t automatically think that makes for a great movie, this one bites. Oh, the soundtrack thinks it’s scary enough; the loud, annoying “scary” musical score is overbearing and non-stop. The story is practically impossible to follow, and much of the action is obscured by tiresome camera tricks that manage to utterly cloud what it is you think you might be seeing. Somewhere in this mess is an interesting idea about a lonely spirit making a deal with Satan for possession of a woman, but muddled story-telling, lousy direction and horrible editing destroy any chances of this one working. Those who might want to watch this one for John Carradine should be aware that he has about one minute of screen time. Still, I couldn’t help but think about Shakespeare’s “MacBeth” while watching this one; not the whole play, mind you, but the parts about “sound and fury signifying nothing” and “a tale told by an idiot” did come to mind.

Eaten Alive! (1980)

aka Mangiati vivi!, The Emerald Jungle
Article 2965 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-20-2009
Posting Date: 9-26-2009
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Featuring Robert Kerman, Janet Agren, Ivan Rossimov
Country: Italy

A woman hires a guide to take her into the jungles of New Guinea to help her find and rescue her sister, who is part of a religious cult who has set up camp there in an area surrounded by cannibals.

What do you get when you cross the Italian cannibal genre with the Jim-Jones-suicide-cult-exploitation genre? When you get down to it, little more than your typical jungle movie, only with lots of disembowelments, gore, animal torture, decapitations, rapes, and severed limbs. Reportedly, this is one of the milder Italian cannibal movies out there, so it may disappoint fans of this sort of thing. Me, I like animals enough to find the scenes of them being disemboweled (and you know that footage is not being faked) to be incredibly offensive, especially as you know it’s just being done to satisfy the gross-out crowd. As for the rest of the movie, it’s also there primarily for the benefit of the gross-out crowd; there’s certain nothing else about this film that would attract a viewer otherwise.

Demon Pond (1979)

aka Yasha-ga-ike
Article 2964 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-19-2009
Posting Date: 9-25-2009
Directed by Masahiro Shinoda
Featuring Tamasaburo Bando, Go Kato, Tsutomu Yamazaki
Country: Japan

A teacher on vacation comes upon a village near a pond with a dragon in it; in order to keep the dragon from inundating the village with water, a bell must be rung three times daily to remind the dragon of its pact not to do so. However, it’s been many years since the pact, and the villagers have begun to believe that the story is just superstition…

Watching fantasy movies from other countries is a rich experience, and this one is truly enjoyable. It’s based on a stage play, and you can tell; the action takes place in three distinct phases. In the first, we follow the story of the teacher as he finds an old friend who has married the most beautiful woman in the village and has taken over the ringing of the bell. This section is rather long-winded, but the second section is a marvel; we meet personifications of the dragon and her many associates, many of which are portrayed as half man and half animal. These two first sections work together to establish one clear fact, and that is that there really is only one person standing in the way of the destruction of the village. The third section follows the plans of the drought-stricken villagers, and how their plans put them all in peril. My print of this is none too good, but even I can tell that it’s visually enthralling, and some of the special effects are wonderful. Its worst problem is that it gets a little too talky at times, and I suspect a good twenty minutes could have been pruned off of this movie, which runs just over two hours long. Nevertheless, it is a remarkable and highly recommended movie.