The Aquarians (1970)

THE AQUARIANS (1970)
TV-Movie
Article 2637 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-25-2008
Posting Date: 11-1-2008
Directed by Don McDougall
Featuring Ricardo Montalban, Jose Ferrer, Leslie Nielsen
Country: USA

A team of scientists use their state-of-the-art deep-sea diving equipment to find out what is poisoning the waters on the coast of Aganda.

If movies were broken out into species, this would be a Jargonus Imperativus; a movie whose dialogue mostly consists of jargon spewed out in the form of imperative statements. In short, most of the dialogue in this movie consists of people barking orders to each other over a microphone. As a result, very little character development takes place; even an actor brimming with as much style as Ricardo Montalban fails to do more than make his character a slightly eccentric cipher; everyone else (with the exception of Jose Ferrer) plays forgettable nonentities, though I think one of the characters has a baby. This was another failed pilot, and I’m not surprised it didn’t sell. There’s a bit of preaching about pollution, but other than that, it’s mostly underwater footage coupled with people barking orders. It’s not quite as jargon-heavy as the Italian Space Operas of the sixties (which also belong to this same species), but that doesn’t make it any more interesting.

 

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Aladdin and His Lamp (1952)

ALADDIN AND HIS LAMP (1952)
Article 2636 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-24-2008
Posting Date: 10-31-2008
Directed by Lew Landers
Featuring Johnny Sands, Patricia Medina, Richard Erdman
Country: USA

Aladdin uses the power of a genie to help win the hand of princess Jasmine.

Actually, I’m a bit amazed that low-budget studio Monogram would actually attempt an Arabian Nights epic, especially one in color. It’s a pity I can’t enjoy the color myself; my print is so faded it might as well be in black-and-white. I’m not surprised it’s cheesy and rather clumsy; I’d expect that from a Monogram movie directed by Lew Landers. Still, I do have to admire the attempt to pack so much story in one movie that runs little more than an hour. And I have to admit a real admiration for one plot element in particular; in this version of the story, every wish made of the genie has a catch, and that is that the genie will get a chance to kill the man who made the wish in an attempt to free himself from his curse. I pretty much figured that this plot element was going to play a part in a “deus ex machina” ending, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a clever idea; I just wish the script made better use of it than it does. The cast also features the familiar face of John Dehner as Prince Bokra.

 

Atlantis (1913)

ATLANTIS (1913)
Article 2632 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-19-2008
Posting Date: 10-27-2008
Directed by August Blom
Featuring Olaf Fonss, Ida Orlov, Ebba Thomsen
Country: Denmark

A Danish scientist, frustrated with both his personal and professional lives, finds himself attracted to a dancer who he follows to America.

For me, the most impressive thing about this one is the date; this may be the earliest full-length (i.e. longer than sixty minutes) movie I’ve seen for the series, as it beats CABIRIA by several months. And it is impressive in terms of spectacle, especially with a shipwreck sequence that looks as if a real ship was sunk for the effect. However, I’m less impressed with the story. It’s based on a novel by Gerhart Hauptmann, and it feels like one of those adaptations that manages to capture most of the events in the original novel while failing to capture that sense of unity and focus that holds it all together. In short, to me, the movie feels episodic and rambling, with a basic story that could have been compressed to twenty minutes. This, combined with the lack of a sense of humor and the fact that the story is basically about an unhappy man living an unhappy life, made the movie a rather dreary experience. I did get one laugh out of the movie, but more about that below.

Now, let’s deal with the fantastic content. I can’t blame anyone for including a movie named ATLANTIS on a list of fantastic movies for its title alone, but, despite the fact that the movie contains a plethora of potentially fantastic elements, it really remains a fairly straightforward drama. The elements?

1) Our main character is a bacteriologist whose thesis is rejected by an institute because it is too far out. Many horror movies would take that as a starting point for an elaborate revenge plot, a la THE MAD MONSTER. In this one, it’s just one more depressing thing in the scientist’s life.

2) The scientist’s wife is mad; in one of the better scenes, she sneaks up on her husband, and we don’t notice until the last moment that she’s carrying a pair of scissors. This plot element is similar to one in JANE EYRE, which, though itself not a horror movie, is closer than this one is. Sadly, she’s carted off to an asylum early in the movie, and that’s the last we see of her as an active character in the proceedings.

3) The movie features Charles Untham as an armless man, who gives a performance at one point showing how dexterous he is with his feet. This scene is truly amazing, and it brought back memories of the Lon Chaney movie THE UNKNOWN. Sadly, this character is totally unrelated to the main story.

4) And, finally, there’s Atlantis itself. In this movie, our main character dreams he is visiting Atlantis with a friend. We see him and his friend walking through a normal-looking town, and then looking out over a field. After about thirty seconds of this, he wakes up. Given the fact that the name of the movie is ATLANTIS, I can’t help but sense that this scene is essential to the story, but what it’s supposed to symbolize is lost on me. At any rate, in terms of its value as fantastic content, it’s as anti-climactic as they come.

5) There’s a couple of other dream sequences, including one in which a group of card-players vanish into mid-air.

That’s it. None of these sequences are of sufficient content for me to qualify this movie as anything but marginalia for fans of fantastic cinema.

Oh, and my laugh? It didn’t come from the movie per se, but rather, from the backstory of the movie. Apparently, a different ending was shot for the Russian market; since they like depressing endings, they shot one for that market alone. However, since the writer of the novel was keeping a close watch on the movie to make sure that it didn’t veer too far from the original story, the Russians were given instructions that the version with the alternate ending could only be shown in Siberia. I don’t know why, but I found this fact hilarious.

 

Aranas infernales (1968)

ARANAS INFERNALES (1968)
aka Hellish Spiders
Article 2552 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-31-2008
Posting Date: 8-7-2008
Directed by Federico Curiel
Featuring Bianca Sanchez, Marta Elena Cervantes, Alejandro Munoz Moreno
Country: Mexico

Spiders from outer space threaten the world with zombie minions. However, Mexican wrestler Blue Demon is out to defeat their evil scheme.

I can understand a little the concept of borrowing footage from other movies to pad out a film; it’s useful if you want to make your movie look a little classier than you can afford or if you want to save time. However, if you go lifting footage from PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE and TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE (as this movie does copiously), it’s obvious that it’s time you’re trying to save. Other than that, it’s business as usual for the Mexican wrestler genre, at least as far as I can tell from the undubbed and unsubtitled copy in Spanish that I watched. The cheesy giant spider (smaller than the one in TARANTULA, bigger than the one in A TERRIBLE NIGHT) is laughable, but it does look better than the flying saucer footage from PLAN 9. The movie has way too much wrestling; only the match that is essential to the plot (in which Blue Demon takes on a seemingly indestructible zombie wrestler) is worth catching, as it features the moment when Blue Demon discovers his opponents Achilles heel (his right arm) and witnesses a truly memorable monster transformation.

You know, as many of the Mexican wrestler movies as I’ve done, I still have the feeling I’ve only scratched the surface…

 

The Astronomer’s Dream (1898)

THE ASTRONOMER’S DREAM (1898)
aka La Lune a un metre
Article 2545 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-24-2008
Posting Date: 7-31-2008
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France

An astronomer is tormented by the devil, who plays horrible tricks on him and his equipment.

The devil starts in easy on the astronomer with your basic tricks from THE BEWITCHED INN, but things really get strange from there. Fortunately, the astronomer has a guardian angel who is able to put him back together when he goes to pieces (and I do mean that literally). All in all, this is an extremely amusing short from Melies, and I rank it as one of his best pre-A TRIP TO THE MOON movies. My favorite moment: the astronomer gets to meet a heavenly body up close and personal.

 

Atlas (1961)

ATLAS (1961)
Article 2527 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-5-2008
Posting Date: 7-13-2008
Directed by Roger Corman
Featuring Michael Forest, Barboura Morris, Frank Wolff
Country: USA

When a city is held in siege by an evil tyrant, the archon of the city convinces the tyrant to agree to settle their dispute by having a battle to the death between their respective champions. The tyrant chooses a wrestler named Atlas for his champion. However, Atlas isn’t sure he cares much for the tyrant or his ways…

Here’s a novelty; an American attempt at a sword-and-sandal movie. Shooting it in Greece was an excellent idea, as it gave them some good locations for their work. However, the movie falls flat overall, despite the fact that the script was written by Charles B. Griffith. Part of the problem is that the low budget kept the spectacle level below what it really needed to be to make this one work. As Atlas (not the god holding up the world, but someone of the same name), Michael Forest simply looks too thin and weedy to conjure up visions of other sword-and-sandal actors like Steve Reeves, Alan Steel, Gordon Mitchell etc. It should come as no surprise that this Atlas doesn’t even have superhuman strength, and unfortunately this strips the movie of fantastic content, unless the city under siege by Praximedes classifies as a mythical kingdom. Mostly, it’s the weak acting and the overabundance of talk that drag this one down; quite frankly, the actors who do the dubbing on Italian sword-and-sandal movies did a better job of expressing emotion and excitement. The limp battle scenes weren’t Corman’s fault; he had arranged for 500 soldiers for the scenes, but had to skimp when only fifty showed up, resulting in battles that mostly consisted of confusing close-ups. All in all, this simply fails to deliver the goods.

 

Amazing World of Ghosts (1978)

AMAZING WORLD OF GHOSTS (1978)
Article 2521 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-28-2008
Posting Date: 7-7-2008
Directed by Wheeler Dixon
Narrated by Sidney Paul
Country: USA

Do you believe in ghosts? They’re out to scare us! They may come from outer space! See all mediums with ectoplasm coming out of their mouths – this doesn’t happen very often, but we have about a thousand pictures of it happening. Jupiter’s a big planet. What about Nessie, the Loch Ness monster? People also look for the Abominable Snowman, aka Bigfoot. This hypnotized guy can’t hear the drum music in the background! Because of the Gold Rush, many Ghost Towns were created. We’re all going to be invaded! Poltergeists throw things around and scare people. I’ll shut up now; play some electronic music to fill in the gap…

So far, I’ve seen several documentaries from the seventies about paranormal occurrences and/or extraterrestrial visitations. This one is the worst by far. Combine random stock footage with free-floating paranoia, stream of consciousness rambling and a short attention span and you end up with one of the most pointless explorations of… well, ostensibly it’s about ghosts, but with the way this thing wanders, who can tell? There are no interviews; it’s just Sidney Paul talking and the musicians filling in the gaps while photos and stock footage pass by. I’d say it’s unconvincing, except that for it to be unconvincing, it would have to at least approach coherent, and such is not the case. Really, I’m surprised it didn’t try to mix the Kennedy assassination in as well. One of my “favorite” moments; we see footage of a primitive town and its residents while the narrator intones about the town being infested by ghosts; we don’t see any, but we see plenty of goats, so maybe he was confused. Another: we see modern techniques for digging gold out of mountains, which proves that space aliens have vast underground cities on other planets just waiting for the chance to pounce on us all.