Beyond the Universe (1981)

Article 3868 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-8-2012
Posting Date: 3-17-2012
Directed by Robert Emenegger
Featuring David Ladd, Jacqueline Ray, Christopher Cary
Country: USA
What it is: Science fiction drama

In the twentieth century, mankind is on the verge of dying off after two nuclear wars, and martial law is put into place. A scientist with a plan for saving humanity finds himself forced to work on a project to which he objects, but he has the help of a group of rebels who plan to help him carry out his own plan…

I recognized the names of director Robert Emenegger and producer Allan Sandler in the credits at once, and I discovered that I had already encountered them a few times in my cinematic journeys. I have yet to see a good movie from them, but I also have yet to see a worthless movie from them, either; as bad as they can be at times, they also make movies that are not obvious rehashes of better known movies and there are occasionally interesting ideas in them. This one starts out like a typical dystopian movie before subtly adding some elements that remind me of STAR WARS, but it ends like something from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and even if that makes the movie sound like a real hodgepodge, it nonetheless feels organically whole, if not competently acted or directed. So maybe it was no surprise I kept thinking of Kilgore Trout while watching this movie; he’s the fictional science fiction writer from the works of Kurt Vonnegut who, despite being a bad writer, has fans because he has such interesting ideas. Maybe that’s why there are certain bad directors we love; they sometimes give us something that nobody else really gives us, which may explain why people like Andy Milligan have staunch defenders. No, I can’t recommend this movie, but if you do watch it, I don’t think it will be a total waste of time.


Amazons (1986)

AMAZONS (1986)
Article 3867 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-7-2012
Posting Date: 3-16-2012
Directed by Alejandro Sessa
Featuring Ty Randolph, Penelope Reed, Joseph Whipp
Country: Argentina
What it is: Epic fantasy suffering from anemia

A group of Amazons must do battle with an evil magician, but their greatest warrior is sent on a quest to find a magic sword that will destroy him.

I suspect the only reason the warriors are Amazons is so that the bare chests can be more exploitable. The budget is obviously near the very low end of the scale, the action/battle scenes are unconvincing and badly choreographed, and unless you’re looking for laughs of the wretched cinema variety, about the only reason to catch this one is for the scenery (both natural and human). Yet I do have to admit to being a bit awed at this one; I’ve never seen a movie where the acting is all at the same consistently low level, because not only is every actor giving a bad performance, but they’re all giving the same level of a bad performance. When that happens, I usually suspect the problem is in the direction; obviously, the director likes his acting that way. Well, at least it keeps the overacting in check; it’s even worse when that happens, but it only occurs during the climactic battle scene. I think that’s all anyone really needs to know about this one.

The Herncrake Witch (1912)

aka The Hencrake Witch
Article 3866 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-6-2012
Posting Date: 3-15-2012
Directed by Mark Melford
Featuring Jackeydawra Melford, Mark Melford
Country: UK
What it is: Fantasy comedy

When the daughter of a local witch is ostracized by the other students at a girl school, the witch plots a revenge against them. She also helps her daughter’s lover to overcome his father’s resistance to their romance.

This title had ended up on my “ones that got away” list with a LOST classification, but a print (with only a few seconds missing at the beginning and the end) has apparently turned up, been restored, and posted on the web, thus giving me a chance to see it. It looked relatively realistic for a movie about a witch in its time, so I was wondering if it would be a movie about the witch hunts, but the minute the daughter shows up in a black pointed hat, I knew that it wasn’t to be taken too seriously. In the movie, the witch really only has one trick up its sleeve, but it’s a good one, especially when she casts it on a misogynistic father. It’s a fun and amusing little short that I’m glad survived. Incidentally, I was quite surprised to discover that the character of Jackeydawra (the witch’s daughter) was actually played by an actress name Jackeydawra.

The Super Devil (1966)

aka L’arcidiavolo, The Devil in Love
Article 3865 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-5-2012
Posting Date: 3-14-2012
Directed by Ettore Scola
Featuring Vittorio Gassman, Claudine Augur, Mickey Rooney
Country: Italy
What it is: Diabolical comedy

In the fifteenth century, the state of peace has reduced the influx of new souls to hell to a trickle, so Satan sends up the devil Belphegor in the shape of a man (and assisted by an invisible demon known as Adramalek) to start a war between Rome and Florence. However, will his human form leave him vulnerable to human emotions?

This is a comic fantasy with a few science fiction elements as well; some of Leonardo Da Vinci’s inventions come into play during the proceedings. Vittorio Gassman seems to be having the time of his life playing the cocky, fearless Belphegor, while Mickey Rooney plays his part like an older Puck; in my print, he appears to be have been dubbed into Italian. Still, the biggest problem with this movie is that for the most part, it’s a one note affair; the plot itself isn’t clever enough to really engross the viewer, the humor is mostly all on the same level, and any character development is saved for the end of the movie. It’s sporadically clever and energetic, but ultimately a bit tiresome.

The Castle (1968)

aka Das Schloss
Article 3864 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-4-2012
Posting Date: 3-13-2012
Directed by Rudolf Noelte
Featuring Maximilian Schell, Cordula Trantow, Trudik Daniel
Country: West Germany
What it is: Kafkaesque frustration

A land surveyor arrives in a small village only to discover he is not wanted or needed, and that his presence disrupts the routine of the village. He becomes obsessed with speaking to an elusive official of the castle that presides over the town.

I think part of the trick to enjoying Kafka is to know that you’re dealing with Kafka, which is to say, that you’re dealing with mysteries with no solutions and labyrinths with no exits. The movie is a fantasy because it can’t be anything else, though it could also be seen as a horror movie in the sense that it presents a very specific type of nightmare, one in which we are trapped in a world in which we don’t know the rules and our efforts to understand them just makes them seem more impenetrable. Personally, I’ve always suspected there’s something profoundly comic about his work, in much the same way that the work of Chekhov is, and like Chekhov, he is often played more for heavy drama. I also suspect that being a protagonist in a Kafka drama was not unlike being trapped into a game of fizzbin and never realizing it. Maybe that’s the reason I think the main flaw of this movie is that it’s just too glum; I think that the makers of the movie had about as much of a sense of humor as the character of the land surveyor. But then, if the land surveyor had had a sense of humor, he wouldn’t have been a Kafka protagonist, would he? Actually, I find Kafka fascinating, but he is an acquired taste.

Moresque obiettivo allucinante (1967)

aka Coplan ouvre le feu a Mexico, Mexican Slayride, Between the Nets
Article 3863 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-3-2012
Posting Date: 3-12-2012
Directed by Riccardo Freda
Featuring Lang Jeffries, Sabine Sun, Jose Maria Caffarel
Country: Spain / France / Italy
What it is: Eurospy

Secret agent Coplan is sent on a mission to discover the reason paintings that disappeared during the Nazi occupation of France are popping up in auctions; those who try to bid on them are killed and the portraits stolen. The trail eventually leads to a bizarre plan to take over the world.

There’s apparently a fansub out there of this movie that is preferable to the English version known as MEXICAN SLAYRIDE, the latter of which was cut by about thirty minutes into a running time of less than an hour. I ended up with neither of these, but with the Italian release of the movie with the title above. With the help of a few plot descriptions, I was more or less able to follow what was going on. This one seems to lack the gadgetry that is the reason some spy movies qualify as science fiction, so I suspect that this one is fairly marginal (though the plot which involves the replacement of President Johnson with a lookalike in order to start World War III may give it a little fantastic content). The murders are a bit on the brutal side, some of the action sequences are rather silly (especially an unbelievable bailout from a crashing plane), but I will give the movie credit for going the idea of a sword hidden in a cane one better. Nevertheless, this doesn’t appear to be a particularly engrossing or fun Eurospy movie.

Starman (1984)

STARMAN (1984)
Article 3862 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-2-2012
Posting Date: 3-11-2012
Directed by John Carpenter
Featuring Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, Charles Martin Smith
Country: USA
What it is: Alien on Earth story

An alien being takes the form of a bereaved woman’s dead husband, and enlists her help to transport him to a crater in Arizona where he can return to his own world. But the government knows of his existence and plans to capture him…

I saw this movie many years ago and it didn’t make much of an impression on me then; about all I could remember was a gag involving what to do when the lights turn yellow. I like it much better now, most likely because I didn’t turn myself off to the emotional resonance of the story like I did then. It’s tempting and not entirely inaccurate to describe it as a cross between E.T. and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, but thanks to a mostly thoughtful script and two excellent performances from Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen, the movie moves beyond a mere imitation and finds its own voice. And as a movie that involves love between humans and non-humans, I certainly prefer it to SPLASH, another movie that feels very similar to this one. If I do have a little problem with it, it’s because it’s a tab overlong, a problem that could have been fixed with some tighter editing here and there; I also can’t help but notice that the main characters seem to find it a little bit too easy on occasion to enlist the help of strangers. It also seems to be setting itself up for a sequel that never came, and I do find myself wishing to know what will happen after Allen’s character has her child and what he will be like.