Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977)
Article 4334 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-12-2013
Directed by John ‘Bud’ Cardos
Featuring William Shatner, Tiffany Bolling, Woody Strode
Country: USA
What it is: Nature run amok

A small Arizona town finds itself threatened by an invasion of deadly tarantulas who have organized themselves into an army.

“Nature Run Amok” stories were a pretty standard subgenre of the seventies, and if you’re familiar with the form, then, in terms of the plot, there’s not much in the way of surprises in this particular example of it. And, when you get down to it, I really wasn’t expecting any. Still, that’s not to say that the movie doesn’t have its small pleasures. For one thing, I like the authentic-feeling Arizona small town atmosphere that pervades the movie. I like the moment when the female lead first encounters a tarantula in a drawer in her cabin; rather than screaming (as the cliche would be), she picks it up, talks to it, pets it, and then takes it outside and sets it free, which, given that she’s an entomologist, makes a lot more sense. I like that the pest exterminator draws pictures of his victims on the side of his airplane. And I also like how the woman who rents out the cabin goes through a period of grieving when she believes the man that she loves has died; many movies of this sort don’t take the time to realize that grief comes with death, and it’s nice to see it on display. It’s also well acted throughout, and the movie certainly doesn’t cut corners in creating a believable spider infestation. So even if the story itself is pretty ordinary, it’s well enacted, and that’s always a plus.

Horror Hospital (1973)

HORROR HOSPITAL (1973)
Article 4333 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-11-2013
Directed by Antony Balch
Featuring Michael Gough, Robin Askwith, Vanessa Shaw
Country: UK
What it is: How do I begin…?

A pop song writer and a woman looking for her aunt find themselves trapped on the estate of a mad doctor who intends to experiment with their brains.

I have a friend who really admires British actors; he likes to say that no matter what kind of crap they’re given in the scripts, they always end up treating it like Shakespeare. Well, I don’t think he’s seen this movie; here the actors treat it like the silly piece of idiocy that it is. Now usually a comment like that is how I’d begin a pan of a movie, but I don’t really have the heart with this one. I think it’s because the opening scene of the movie (where the doctor deals with two runaway patients from his estate) was, in its own demented way, nearly perfect; I immediately knew that the movie was going to be bloody, sleazy, campy and (most importantly) not to be taken seriously on any level. And that’s just how the rest of the movie is. I’ve never seen a movie before where every character consistently makes the most monumentally stupid decisions at every opportunity, and after a while you just sort of roll with it. Michael Gough (who can sometimes annoy me when he overacts) manages to hit just the right note with this one, but the movie is stolen by Skip Martin as the dwarf manservant of the estate; his comic tone is spot on. No, this is not what I would call a “good” movie, but if you’re in the mood for a certain type of bloody goofiness, this one will fill the bill.

The Last Shark (1981)

THE LAST SHARK (1981)
aka Great White, L’ultimo squalo
Article 4332 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-10-2013
Directed by Enzo G. Castellari
Featuring James Franciscus, Vic Morrow, Micaela Pignatelli
Country: Italy
What it is: Recycled JAWS

A coastal community is threatened by a shark. Several people try to kill it.

You know, it seems to me that if you’re going to try to tempt a 28 foot long great white shark with a big chunk of meat hanging from a helicopter, you’d better have it set up so you can detach it quickly if the shark proves too much for you. And that’s the main lesson I learned from this, one of the most notorious rip-offs of Spielberg’s original movie; this one steals so much from the original story that it lost a suit from Universal, forcing it to be yanked from theaters. James Franciscus plays Roy Scheider, and Vic Morrow plays Robert Shaw. In all honesty, it doesn’t completely lift everything from its model; the movie does come up with at least one subplot involving two movie men trying to cash in on the shark’s presence by shooting as much footage as they can. Personally, I think a movie that had made that aspect the center of the story could have made some interesting comments about sensationalism and the media. Beyond that and the fact that the movie provides a few campy moments, there’s little to recommend here.

The Invisible Dr. Mabuse (1962)

THE INVISIBLE DR. MABUSE (1962)
aka Die unsichtbaren Krallen des Dr. Mabuse
Article 4331 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-9-2013
Directed by Harald Reinl
Featuring Lex Barker, Karin Dor, Siegfried Lowitz
Country: West Germany
What it is: Dr. Mabuse thriller

A gang of criminals is after something known as Operation X, and an FBI agent is sent abroad to stop them. He comes to the conclusion that the mastermind is none other than Dr. Mabuse, who was believed to be dead.

I’ve never been quite sure just what defines the “krimi” films from Germany in the sixties, so I’m not quite sure whether the Dr. Mabuse films were actually part of that genre or not, since they’re not based on the works of Edgar Wallace. They are, however, pretty much in the same style as the krimis, and often shared the same casts and directors. In general, the Dr. Mabuse films were better than the usual run of the krimis; they were much easier to follow, and Mabuse himself was a fascinating villain. This isn’t one of the stronger of the Mabuse films, as Mabuse doesn’t come across as quite as much of a clever threat as he does in some of the others. It is, however, much heavier on the fantastic content, as invisibility plays a major role in the storyline of this one. The plot also involves an operetta of the French revolution, an evil Clown (yeah, I know, that’s redundant), a nasty torture sequence, and a badly mutilated scientist to add to the mix. It’s fairly light on the humor this time round, with no painfully obvious comic relief character. All in all, this one is moderately entertaining, though I will point out that the English title is inaccurate, as Dr. Mabuse himself never really becomes invisible.

Heartbeeps (1981)

HEARTBEEPS (1981)
Article 4330 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-8-2013
Directed by Allan Arkush
Featuring Andy Kaufman, Bernadette Peters, Randy Quaid
Country: USA
What it is: Romantic robot comedy

Three robots (two of which have fallen in love) escape from a factory to live in the wilderness. However, the employees and the factory want them back, and a crime-busting police robot is on their tail…

I’m going to come right out and admit that I was actually a bit moved by a sad scene near the end of this movie, an admission I make with the understanding that it reveals me to be the old softie I am. It is an embarrassing thing to admit, though, because when you come right down to it, the movie isn’t really worth it; though the central idea is interesting enough, the script is woefully underdeveloped, and unless you’re into recycled Henny Youngman jokes, it’s terribly short of laughs. The movie tries to get most of its laughs from the robotic spin that the two main characters give to their conversation, but ultimately that’s more lightly whimsical than actually funny, and it gets old long before the movie is over. This is Andy Kaufman’s sole leading role in a movie, but he’s really not the type of performer whose style lends itself to the movie medium, and though I like the physicalization he gives his character, there’s not much he can otherwise do with it. In the end, I had more fun seeing familiar faces pop up in small roles; Richard B. Shull, Dick Miller, Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel and Christopher Guest all pop up. Ultimately, the movie is quite bad, but it is at least an offbeat curio.

Lisa and the Devil (1973)

LISA AND THE DEVIL (1973)
aka House of Exorcism, Lisa e il diavolo
Article 4329 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-7-2013
Directed by Mario Bava and Alfredo Leone
Featuring Telly Savalas, Elke Sommer, Sylva Koscina
Country: Italy / West Germany / Spain
What it is: Tale of the supernatural

A woman gets lost in a foreign city, and ends up staying with a strange family in a creepy home. And this family has its share of skeletons in its closet…

This movie came into my list under the alternate title THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM. I was originally going to watch a copy of the movie under that title that I had, but the print was in such poor shape that I opted to watch a streaming rental of it instead, and because I’d heard in advance of the compromises made to the movie in its initial release, I opted for the original version titled LISA AND THE DEVIL. For the record, the original movie was unable to find a distributor, and so footage was added to turn it into a “possession by the devil” movie similar to THE EXORCIST; it was that version that was released as THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM. For the record, I’m glad that I did; I don’t see how possession footage added to his movie would have done anything more than render it a piece of tripe.

Not that I find the original movie to be perfect; after a creepy opening section, I find much of the first half of the movie to be a little on the dull side, and the title character (Lisa, not the devil) is one of those characters whose sole purpose seems to scream when necessary; if her situation wasn’t nightmarishly captivating and she wasn’t easy on the eyes, I’d have no interest in her at all. However, the nightmare she is going through is indeed fascinating; some of the secrets and events are truly grotesque and even perverse. Then there’s an amazing performance from Telly Savalas, who, though on the surface appears as the family’s manservant, is probably the other title character (the devil, not Lisa). His reactions are unexpected, often humorous, and quite unsettling. It’s one of the best performances I’ve seen from him. The whole story itself is made from some very familiar elements, but they’re assembled in a creative way, and I like the movie enough that I’ll even forgive it’s rather pat final twist. I’m really glad I opted for this original version.

Hercules in New York (1969)

HERCULES IN NEW YORK (1969)
Article 4328 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-6-2013
Directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman
Featuring Arnold Stang, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Deborah Loomis
Country: USA
What it is: Fish out of water story

Much to Zeus’s anger, Hercules leaves Olympus and goes down to Earth after many centuries of inactivity. He ends up in modern New York and befriends a pretzel salesman.

You know, the concept of sticking Hercules in modern times might make for an interesting comic idea; the trouble is, despite the fact that there is some humor in the movie, it more or less takes itself seriously. Granted, I’m not sure that, with the talent involved, making it a comedy would have helped; the comic moments are as flat as the rest of the movie. It’s unimaginitively directed, most of the acting is poor, there’s nothing fun in the special effects department, and the movie just limps along from one setpiece to another until it ends. It’s more interesting for its trivia value; it was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first movie, and because he was an unknown, he was billed as Arnold Strong so that it would fun to see the name billed next to Arnold Stang’s. His accent was considered too thick to be understood, so he was dubbed on the released print; the undubbed print is available, though. The most fun I had during the movie was seeing a poster for a movie called HERCULES AGAINST THE MONSTER, because I couldn’t help noticing that the monster that appears on the poster is Godzilla; now there would be a movie to see. There also seems to be a little controversy on one point; does John Candy make an appearance in the movie? Some people insist that he isn’t, but all I know is that early in the movie, an actor who resembles and sounds like him says a couple of lines; he’s not listed in the cast, though. Incidentally, I had the choice of watching the version with Schwarzenegger dubbed or undubbed; I chose the dubbed for this viewing.