Les Vampires (1915)

LES VAMPIRES (1915)
aka The Vampires
Article 2753 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-20-2008
Posting Date: 2-25-2009
Directed by Louis Feuillade
Featuring Musidora, Edouard Mathe, Marcel Levesque
Country: France

A reporter matches wits with a criminal organization known as the Vampires.

Nowadays this is probably Louis Feuillade’s most famous serial, though I think I prefer FANTOMAS. I’m glad it is a serial; at more than six and a half hours, this is the longest single work I’ve reviewed for this series, and it was nice to be able to stretch the viewing over several nights, with each episode preceding my movie. Still, they were long nights, since the serial is only ten episodes, and some of the episodes clock in at almost an hour.

Despite the title, the closest we get to a real vampire is a character in a musical performance in the second episode. Still, there are some marginal fantastic items throughout; there’s a few light science fiction items (various types of poison, including one that paralyzes its victims) and a few horror touches (a severed head, people seemingly coming back from the dead, a crooked medium, hypnotism, etc). In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if every episode had some element that would push it at least marginally into fantastic territory, though the serial as a whole remains squarely in the crime genre. It’s quite entertaining and fairly light-hearted, though the preponderance of coincidence as a driving plot element makes it somewhat hard to swallow. I like the general structure; the early episodes are shorter and keep the plots simple, but as the serial progresses, more characters are introduced and the plots get more elaborate. In fact, I had to restart and rewatch one episode when I lost the plot thread of it, something that I rarely have to do with other serials. At points, the complexity becomes almost comic; in my favorite episode, two different groups of criminals plot to steal a fortune from another criminal, only to discover that that criminal’s fortune has fallen into the reporter’s hands.

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Son of Godzilla (1967)

SON OF GODZILLA (1967)
aka Kaijut no kessen: Gojira no musuko
Article 2752 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-19-2008
Posting Date: 2-24-2009
Directed by Jun Fukuda
Featuring Tadao Takashima, Akira Kubo, Bibar Maeda
Country: Japan

A group of scientists experimenting with weather control encounter difficulties when they discover the island they are working on is the home of Godzilla and his newly hatched son.

There’s only so much you can do with the concept of a giant monster, but I have to give Toho credit for trying to find as much variety as they could with the premise; all of the Godzilla movies for the first fourteen years or so were somewhat different from each other. It wasn’t until after DESTROY ALL MONSTERS that the series began resorting to formula. Some of the attempts to find something new to do with the Godzilla were pretty far out; I tend to place this movie, GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER, and GODZILLA’S REVENGE in a group by themselves as ones that gave us the most radical departures from the usual giant monster mayhem. You have to have a high tolerance for cute with this one; the scenes of Godzilla trying to teach his comic-relief son could be either delightful or painful, depending on how you feel about Minya. I have to admit to having a weak spot for Minya, and I was highly amused by the fact that he originally blew smoke rings and had to be trained to use his radioactive breath. Plotwise, it’s a mess, though; between the scenes of the monsters, we have an extremely episodic and not very interesting human story about scientists experimenting with weather, and this story really has no forward momentum and only cursory interest level; they’re just there to fill in time between the monster scenes. Still, whatever its weaknesses, the final shot of Godzilla, covered with snow, cradling his son in his arms, and preparing to go into hibernation, is somehow more powerful and moving than you might think; it’s one of my favorite images from the series.

The Return of Count Yorga (1971)

THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (1971)
Article 2751 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-17-2008
Posting Date: 2-23-2009
Directed by Bob Kelljan
Featuring Robert Quarry, Mariette Hartley, Roger Perry
Country: USA

Count Yorga the vampire falls in love with a woman who works in an orphanage. He kidnaps her and embarks on a reign of terror.

I always used to wonder why there was even a Count Yorga to begin with; it seems to me that if you had a vampire who was a Count, you had a familiar and easy-to-market character named Dracula in the public domain that was ripe and ready for use. This movie did answer that question for me at least a little. The character of Dracula carries with it a certain amount of baggage that you can dispense with if you’re playing a different character; for one thing, you don’t have to work on the accent. This allows Robert Quarry to come up with his own character, and he does a fine job with it; he adds his own wit to the mix, feels at ease in the role, and doesn’t come across as a pale imitation of Dracula. I like the beginning of the movie best; it makes subtle but effective use of sound in the opening scenes, and the costume party in which Count Yorga appears (in which the winner of the best costume is another person dressed up as a vampire) is highly amusing. There’s also a nice low-key feel to the movie, which is underlined by the absence of background music in most of the scenes. Unfortunately, the script is undernourished, for each scene that works there’s one that falls flat, and the low-key vibes give way to aimlessness and listlessness on occasion. After a while, the attempts at humor become embarrassing, especially towards the end of the movie in which far too much time is spent with a couple of comic-relief cops. In other words, it’s a mixed bag, but memorable moments abound, including one in which we get to see Count Yorga watching a vampire movie in Spanish. This movie also features George Macready’s final screen performance; his son, Micheal Macready, was the producer.

Rattlers (1976)

RATTLERS (1976)
Article 2750 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-16-2008
Posting Date: 2-22-2009
Directed by John McCauley
Featuring Sam Chew Jr., Elisabeth Chauvet, Dan Priest
Country: USA

When a series of unusual rattlesnake attacks occur in the Mojave desert, a herpatologist begins to suspect that the cause may be something that is kept secret at a nearby military base.

Sometimes with a low-budget movie like this, you just have to appreciate what it does right. In this case, I found myself enjoying the little character touches that helped flesh out some of the secondary characters; a number of movies have tried this kind of thing and fallen flat on their faces, but this one somehow makes the characters more realistic and accessible. This helped me to enjoy the movie a bit more than I might otherwise have. The rest is pretty uneven; the acting is merely adequate, the plot is pretty standard but gets weaker as it goes along, and some parts of it are horribly cliched. The scare scenes are only so-so as well. Still, even with this, you get to like the characters enough that it helps you get through it. It does have one moment that really stretches belief, though; I find it impossible to believe that a snake would be able to stop a jeep moving at full speed by biting through the tire.

Prophecy (1979)

PROPHECY (1979)
Article 2749 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-15-2008
Posting Date: 2-21-2009
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Featuring Robert Foxworth, Talia Shire, Armand Assante
Country: USA

Pollution has resulted in a giant mutant killer bear terrorizing the forests of Maine.

Had I been old enough to see and appreciate the sixties works of John Frankenheimer at the time they were made, I would have considered him one of the finest directors at work and anticipated an illustrious career. And how I would have been disappointed at how forgettable much of his later work would turn out to be. For me, the biggest disappointment of this movie was in seeing how ordinary it was in comparison with THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE; here, it seems like he is doing little more than pulling in a paycheck. It’s far from his worst movie (remember THE EXTRAORDINARY SEAMAN?), but he does little to redeem the weak script, the obvious story (which overreaches by trying to cram too much social conscience into a story that doesn’t support it) and the cliched dialogue. The movie is almost entirely lacking in surprises, and when it should be kicking into high gear, it gets listless and tired. This is the second time I’ve seen the movie, and the only scene I remembered from the first time was when one character sticks his head out a tunnel to see if the monster is still there.

The Phantom of Soho (1964)

THE PHANTOM OF SOHO (1964)
aka Das Phantom von Soho
Article 2748 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-14-2008
Posting Date: 2-20-2009
Directed by Franz Josef Gottlieb
Featuring Dieter Borsche, Barbara Rutting, Hans Sohnker
Country: West Germany

A knife-wielding maniac is killing patrons of a sleazy nightclub. However, the victims have more in common than just they’re having frequented the place…

Though my print isn’t in the best of quality, it’s properly letterboxed, surprisingly well-dubbed, and quite coherent. Considering this is one of the Edgar Wallace krimis West Germany was churning out in the early sixties, this is all quite surprising. It even has a plus in that the comic relief character is actually quite amusing and managed to get a few laughs out of me, also rare for the form. As a mystery, it’s not particularly challenging; you’ll quickly figure out the red herring and notice the character whose sole purpose in the story is to be unmasked at the end; I certainly wasn’t surprised. Nevertheless, this is one of the more entertaining and enjoyable krimis out there, and it even has a few effective stylistic touches to add to the mix. This is another good place to start for those who want to try out the form.

The Omega Man (1971)

THE OMEGA MAN (1971)
Article 2747 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-13-2008
Posting Date: 2-19-2009
Directed by Boris Sagal
Featuring Charlton Heston, Anthony Zerbe, Rosalind Cash
Country: USA

The sole survivor of a world-decimating plague finds himself in a one-man war against a gang of surviving mutants bent on his destruction. However, his life changes when he discovers he may not be the only survivor…

This is the third version of Richard Matheson’s novel “I Am Legend”; there appears to be a Spanish short version made a few years earlier which I’ve not seen. I’ve also not seen the recent Will Smith remake, so all I’ve got to compare it with is the Vincent Price version called THE LAST MAN ON EARTH from the early sixties. This one is certainly better made, and was a great deal more popular. I myself quite like some parts of this one; I was always charmed by the scene where Charlton Heston’s character goes to a movie theater to see WOODSTOCK, a movie he’s seen so many times he can mouth the words. I’ve also never forgotten the climax of the movie in the fountain outside of the mansion. Still, taken as a whole, I prefer the earlier version; there’s something about the weariness and stark bleakness of the earlier movie that fires my imagination more than the standard action setpieces that drive this one. This is not to say that this is a bad movie; it’s quite entertaining in its way, though it does get a little slow at times. It just doesn’t have the same impact on me, especially in the closing scenes. On a side note, I wish I had known that craggy-faced John Dierkes was one of the members of the Family in this movie; I would have kept my eyes open for him.