Anna & Bella (1984)

Anna & Bella (1984)

Article 6049 by Dave Sindelar

Date: 4-1-2022

Directed by Borge Ring

Featuring the voices of Tonny Huurdeman, Annemieka Ring, Peter Ring

Country: The Netherlands

What it is: Poignant animated fantasy

Two old sisters sort through old photographs and joyfully recall their lives together. But not all memories are happy…
This Dutch animated short won the Oscar for best animated short film of its year, and it’s a worthy choice.  The fantastic elements do not manifest themselves until the second half of the short, when one extended memory engages in various fantastical metaphors; furthermore, there’s a final twist which clarifies from just which vantage point the sisters are reminiscing.  Despite the fact that it has a voice cast, there really isn’t any dialogue as such; no dubbing or subtitles were necessary here.  Children probably wouldn’t care for this one, and the animation style, though well done, may be a matter of taste.  Nonetheless, this short, both comic and poignant, is worth catching.


Abraxas: Guardian of the Universe (1990)

Abraxas: Guardian of the Universe (1990)
Article 6047 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-6-2022
Directed by Damian Lee
Featuring Jesse Ventura, Sven-Ole Thorsen, Damian Lee
Country: Canada
What it is: Cheap SF actioner

A child with the ability to calculate the anti-life equation is born on Earth due to the machinations of an inter-galactic criminal. When the criminal returns to Earth to find the child and get the equation, an intergalactic policeman is sent to prevent it….possibly by killing the child.

According to IMDB’s trivia section, Arnold Schwarzenegger was offered the title role in this movie but turned it down in favor of doing TERMINATOR 2, a movie that has similar plot details. If this is true, the decision was a no-brainer; there was no way this cheap little Canadian film was going to look as impressive on his resume. The tagline was “An adventure across time and space” and it is deceptive; almost all of the action takes place on Earth, and outside of a couple of scenes that take place a few years earlier, the action mostly seems to occur over a span of two to three days. It’s a cheaply made Canadian-made film starring a wrestler with a rating of 2.9 on IMDB with poor action sequences, but at least it has a bit of a sense of humor; the scene where the villain has to deal with his restaurant bill is the best moment in the movie. The movie sets itself up for a sequel in the final moments, but unsurprisingly, none emerged. Not a cinematic high point.

Ator, the Fighting Eagle (1982)

Ator, the Fighting Eagle (1982)
aka Ator l’invicible
Article 6046 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Joe D’Amato
Featuring Miles O’Keeffe, Sabrina Stani, Ritza Brown
Country: Italy
What it is: Sword and Sorcery on a budget

Ator must fulfill his destiny by destroying an evil spider cult.

One of the worst acting performances I ever gave was for a radio play where we were instructed to read our lines as deliberately and slowly as possible. The reason? – the script was too short to fill in the thirty minute running time needed for the production. This is one of those movies that suffers from the same problem; there simply isn’t enough script to comfortably fill up an hour and a half of running time. That’s why there’s so much dead air in the movie (such as the scenes of the baby bear running through the forest) as well as lengthy pauses between lines of dialogue; they’re trying to pad it to acceptable feature length. Add to that a hero who looks more like the lead vocalist in an eighties hair band and a production singularly short in spectacle, and you have a pretty poor excuse for epic fantasy. Dull and silly.

American Gothic (1987)

American Gothic (1987)
Article 6039 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by John Hough
Featuring Rod Steiger, Yvonne De Carlo, Sarah Torgov
Country: United Kingdom / Canada
What it is: Encounters with strange families

Several young adults taking an airplane trip find themselves stranded on an island whose only inhabitants are a family of God-fearing homicidal maniacs.

The beginning of this movie emphasizes that one adult has undergone the traumatic loss of her baby who drowned in a bathtub, a situation in which she herself was partially to blame. Given at that time I thought this movie was going to be just another slasher film of sorts, I thought this detail would prove to be just another pointless attempt at character development in a subgenre that has little use for it, but as a complete viewing made clear, this isn’t your usual slasher fare; at the point where most movies of this ilk are just finishing up, this one has a twist that adds a whole new act to the proceedings, one in which the death of the baby plays a crucial role in how the final act unfolds.

As a result, I found myself liking this one a lot more than I thought I would. Granted, there are a few problems; for one thing, the movie is fairly slow at getting off the ground. I also find it a bit difficult to believe that a family this God-fearing would tolerate either jazz music or dancing (especially of a scandalous dance like the Charleston), much less having a gramophone and records in the first place. I also find it hard to believe that the father’s last act would be as extreme as it is here, even considering what he has just undergone, though I know why it happens in terms of story. Still, despite its flaws, this is one of the more compelling movies about a homicidal family that I’ve seen.

Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1986)

Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1986)
Article 6038 from Dave Sindelar
Directed by Gary Nelson
Featuring Richard Chamberlain, Sharon Stone, James Earl Jones
Country: United States / Israel
What it is: trying to be an Indiana Jones movie

Allan Quatermain embarks on a hunt for lost city of gold in the hopes of finding his lost brother.

This sequel to KING SOLOMON’S MINES was filmed at the same time; both movies were hoping to cash in on the resurgence in popularity of old-time adventure films as a result of the popularity of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. However, when KING SOLOMON’S MINES failed to set the box office on fire, this one went directly to video in most places. The chintziness of the production is probably one of its biggest problems; some of the scenes involving miniatures are dreadful, and some of the costuming is horrendous, especially anything worn by Henry Silva. Still, I think the worst problem is that two of Quatermain’s companions are extremely irritating; the only reason the whiny girlfriend isn’t the most annoying thing in the picture is that the cowardly Arab is even worse. The fact that the big climax of the movie is devoid of any real thrills is another problem. Though fitfully entertaining, this movie is a dud.

All’s Fair at the Fair (1938)

All’s Fair at the Fair (1938)
Article 6024 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Dave Fleischer and Myron Waldman
Featuring the voices of Margie Hines and Jack Mercer
Country: USA
What it is: Fleischer Cartoon

A pair of country bumpkins visit the world’s fair and are impressed by the technological innovations on show.

The Fleischers hit their peak during the first half of the thirties; during the second half of the decade, I felt their wildness was being tamed to a kind of mild quaintness. If this particular cartoon had been made five years earlier, it would have been a lot zanier, and the visitors wouldn’t have been near as quaint as Elmer and Mirandy in this one. However, what with the plethora of technical innovations and robots, there is plenty of fantastic content; my favorite is the machine that builds houses by pouring the materials into a mold. It’s more whimsical than funny, but it’s an entertaining little cartoon.

The Astral Factor (1978)

The Astral Factor (1978)
Article 6023 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-6-2021
Directed by John Florea, Gene Fowler Jr., Arthur C. Pierce
Featuring Robert Foxworth, Stefanie Powers, Sue Lyon
Country: USA
What it is: Invisible man thriller

A serial killer escapes from prison when he figures out how to undergo astral projection, and starts a killing spree of killing women who remind him of his mother. Police investigate.

Though this movie pops up in several of my public domain movie sets, it’s the first time I got around to watching it. This one does attain a certain level of competence; the acting is solid, there’s a charm to some of the character touches, and it’s not an embarrassment. The main problem is that the script is only so-so at best, and the ending isn’t particularly engaging. Stefanie Powers steals the movie as the main cop’s ditzy wife; unfortunately, the script really doesn’t find a way to make her useful to the story. Apparently, this movie went to television after one week of theatrical release, and you can see why.

A Haunting We Will Go (1949)

A Haunting We Will Go (1949)
Article 6018 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-12-2021
Directed by Seymour Kneitel and Myron Waldman
Featuring the voices of Frank Gallop, Jack Mercer and Mae Questel
Country: USA
What it is: Casper the Friendly Ghost cartoon.

Casper manages to befriend a baby duck. But can he protect his new friend during duck season?

It’s a Casper cartoon; time to cry! Or time to do whatever it is you usually do when faced with a Casper cartoon (yawning is an option). There’s a couple of moments here where Casper or the Narrator talks about protecting the baby duck with his life. The first time I wondered if the writers were aware of the ironic joke they just perpetrated; however, the second time it’s made clear they were aware. It’s the usual Casper combination here; whimsy with tear-jerking, and if that doesn’t float your boat you’ll be glad it’s only eight minutes long. And once again I’ll point out that Casper has no qualms about scaring people if it suits his own ends.

Alien Seed (1989)

Alien Seed (1989)
Article 6003 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-29-2021
Directed by Robert Hyatt
Featuring Erik Estrada, Heide Paine, Steven Blade
Country: USA
What it is: For conspiracy addicts

A writer befriends a woman who had been abducted and impregnated by aliens. They run afoul of secret government agencies and their sadistic employees.

Here’s one of the ways to identify an exploitation film. If two of the characters just happen to work at a topless dancing bar so that the movie can show some nudity by setting some scenes there, the movie is probably at heart an exploitation film. And if you want to make a movie about space aliens so you can tap into the whole government conspiracy themes surrounding the subject, you’re also probably an exploitation film at heart. You get a mish-mash of science fiction and mysticism, but most of the movie seems to be about people involved in government conspiracies killing and/or torturing everybody who knows anything on sight. And once the central female character figures out she knows how to use guns as well, you won’t be surprised how this movie ends up. Erik Estrada is the name star here, and his evil Dr. Stone character is so broadly played that he finds himself in competition with several others for giving the worst performance in the film. This one is a forgotten obscurity, and I see no reason to change that status.

At the Hypnotist’s (1897)

At the Hypnotist’s (1897)
aka Chez le magnetiseur
Article 6002 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-28-2021
Directed by Alice Guy
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Early special effects short

A hypnotist magically adds and removes clothing from people.

Alice Guy didn’t direct many movies that had fantastic content, but this is one exception. It basically borrows some of Melies’ special effects to show the title character plying his trade, though it’s another case in which what we’re seeing has little to do with real hypnotism. It’s passable, but it’s mostly a curiosity of its time anymore.