El asesino invisible (1965)

EL ASESINO INVISIBLE (1965)
aka Neutron Traps the Invisible Killer
Article 3139 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-10-2009
Posting Date: 3-19-2010
Directed by Rene Cardona
Featuring Jorge Rivera, Ana Bertha Lepe, Guillermo Murray
Country: Mexico
What it is: Mexican wrestler vs invisible man movie

The wrestler “The Golden Mask” must do battle with a homicidal invisible man.

For a while, this looked like it was going to be the Neutron movie I’d never see. In truth, I’d already seen all of the Neutron movies; this, despite the presence of Neutron’s name in the English version of the movie, does not feature Neutron, but a one-off wrestler called The Golden Mask, who, like Neutron, seems to be an actor rather than a real wrestler. Nevertheless, there are three wrestling scenes in this one. The first is at the very top of the movie, and I don’t remember if The Golden Mask was in it because I didn’t know what he was going to look like at the time. I know he isn’t in the second wrestling scene at all, and, though he appears in the third, that’s the only one that appears crucial to the plot, as the invisible man gets into the act. We do get plenty of nightclub scenes featuring Ana Bertha Lepe (who, based on seeing her name emblazoned across the marquee of the nightclub, appears to be playing herself), and some of her dances are pretty sexy. Still, I wouldn’t trust her with a gun; every time the invisible man shows up, she starts shooting all over the place. My copy is unsubtitled Spanish, and is a little difficult to follow, though I was able to pick up at least one plot element that gave me a clue to what was probably supposed to be a surprise ending. There’s a couple of clever moments (including one with a lynx), but overall, this isn’t one of the more memorable Mexican wrestler movies.

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Les allumettes fantaisistes (1912)

LES ALLUMETTES FANTAISISTES (1912)
aka Magical Matches
Article 3138 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-8-2009
Posting Date: 3-17-2010
Directed by Emile Cohl
No cast
Country: France
What it is: Animated abstract fantasy

Matches come to life, cavort, dance, and form themselves into figures who smoke.

I’m not sure if this is exactly the movie I’ve been hunting for, but I’ll review it anyway, as this type of abstract animation could be classified as a fantasy. This is the first movie I’ve seen by pioneer animator Emile Cohl, and it is utterly charming. There’s no plot; it jumps between pure abstraction and scenes about animated smokers; one smokes from a bewildering array of pipes, while another has his cigarette lit by any number of lighting devices. This can be found online at the Europa Film Treasures site, and is well worth hunting up.

The Antichrist (1974)

THE ANTICHRIST (1974)
aka L’anticristo, The Tempter
Article 3114 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-6-2009
Posting Date: 2-22-2010
Directed by Alberto De Martino
Featuring Carla Gravina, Mel Ferrer, Arthur Kennedy
Country: Italy
What it is: Italian Exorcist rip-off

A woman with paralyzed legs and family issues is treated by a parapsychologist who discovers she was a witch in her previous life. His attempts to cure her result in her possession by the devil.

It takes THE EXORCIST and adds a dose of ROSEMARY’S BABY and a few touches of the Bridey Murphy story, throws in some incest themes, and tries to up the gross-out ante on occasion. Thanks to some sharp editing, some strong production values, wonderful location footage, and the addition of English-speaking actors (Mel Ferrer, Arthur Kennedy and George Coulouris) to minimize dubbing difficulties for American audiences, this ends up being one of the better Italian takes on THE EXORCIST I’ve seen to date. Still, it never really transcends being a rip-off; when all is said and done, it’s the equivalent of eating reheated leftovers. It might have helped if the actress playing the possessee had managed to engender our sympathy, but she’s too self-pitying and grudge-filled, and her primary facial expression is a contemptuous pout; I found it impossible to care for her plight. As a result, the movie, though well-made, left very little impact.

All the Colors of the Dark (1972)

ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK (1972)
aka Demons of the Dead, Tutti i colori del buio
Article 2981 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-6-2009
Posting Date: 10-11-2009
Directed by Sergio Martino
Featuring George Hilton, Edwige Fenech, Ivan Rassimov
Country: Italy / Spain

After she loses her child in a car accident, a woman finds herself being stalked by a blue-eyed man. Is it just her imagination brought on by the trauma, or is she in real danger? Will a psychiatrist be able to help her, or will taking part in a ritual with a Satanic cult help her?

If there’s anything this movie made me realize, it’s that I really loathe movies in which a troubled woman spends practically the whole movie on the verge of a nervous breakdown because she is being continually terrorized. This is especially true when the movie never bothers to establish her as a real three-dimensional character; she’s just someone to be terrorized, and that’s all the movie is interested in doing. I know these movies are supposed to be really scary, but I don’t end up scared – I end up annoyed, and the fact that this Italian giallo is chock-full of bizarre stylistic touches, surreal dream sequences, and “is it real or a dream” themes doesn’t alleviate my annoyance; if anything, it just makes me aware that the director is pulling the manipulative strings. Granted, movies are a manipulative medium, but the best movies are ones that make you want to be manipulated, and this one doesn’t do that for me. At least the ending is good, though it really doesn’t hold up to close inspection when considering the movie as a whole. Nevertheless, I do feel the need to point out that my reaction to this movie may be based on a personal quirk. If you don’t share that quirk, and are fond of giallos, this one may be for you; it is supposed to be one of Sergio Martino’s better movies. Use your own discretion on this one.

Alfalfa’s Aunt (1939)

ALFALFA’S AUNT (1939)
Short
Article 2957 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-12-2009
Posting Date: 9-17-2009
Directed by George Sidney
Featuring Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer, Marie Blake, Barbara Bedford
Country: USA

Alfalfa believes his aunt means to murder him when he reads a paper she dropped, unaware that it is a page from a mystery novel she is writing. He calls in the gang to help scare her out of the house.

I’m not a big fan of the Our Gang/Little Rascals series, probably because I’m not big on cute kid antics. Still, I will give this short some credit; at only ten minutes, it never runs the risk of being boring. It also doesn’t leave time for more than a handful of scare-the-aunt gags, as most of the running time is dedicated to setting up the plot. For those who want to keep the kids straight in their minds, Alfalfa is the one with the rogue cowlick. Passable and painless.

Alice Through the Looking Glass (1966)

ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (1966)
TV-Movie
Article 2908 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-24-2008
Posting Date: 7-30-2009
Directed by Alan Handley
Featuring Judi Rolin, Roy Castle, Jack Palance
Country: USA

Dorothy – no, I mean Alice – goes to Oz – no, I mean through the looking glass – to save the residents from the wicked witch – no, I mean the Jabberwock – so she must follow the yellow brick road – no, I mean the blue road – and… oh, forget it.

Given my love for the works of Lewis Carroll and my belief that faithful versions of the Alice stories may be unfilmable, you might expect that, even if this were a sincere, well-intentioned effort, that I might be disappointed. Unfortunately, it seems to me that someone involved with this production hated Lewis Carroll with a passion. It borrows the characters from the story, the basic concept of a world through the looking glass, selected snippets of the text (such as the first two verses of “Jabberwocky”), tries to shoehorn them into a plot obviously modeled off of the one in THE WIZARD OF OZ, and throws in a character called Lester the Jester (if the trivia of IMDB is correct, the character was an attempt to give the story its own version of the Scarecrow from THE WIZARD OF OZ) and adds lots of Broadway-style songs. If you think Broadway musicals are the pinnacle of human creation, hate real human emotions but love facile attitudinizing projected to the back row of the balcony, hate surreal verbal humor but love sloppily executed slapstick, think the human experience is best summed up in feel-good platitudes, and would like THE WIZARD OF OZ a lot better if it wasn’t scary at all and everyone had belted their lines in songs at top volume, then I suppose this might be for you. Me, I consider it an atrocity that works neither as an acceptable adaptation of the Carroll story or as a ripoff of its real model mentioned above; I found it nearly unwatchable. Yet, for all that, I actually like the casting; Jimmy Durante is a great choice as Humpty Dumpty, the Smothers brothers are inspired choices for Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and the various red and white kings and queens (Nanette Fabray, Agnes Moorehead, Robert Coote and Ricardo Montalban) are all good picks. The best scenes are the quieter ones or the ones where the performers are allowed to let their personalities shine through despite the bad script; Montalban manages to project an honest sincerity in a scene with Judi Rolin (who plays Alice) that marks the only time the movie shows any real heart. Durante and the Smothers Brothers both come through all right in their respective scenes, but it’s Jack Palance (who plays the Jabberwock) who really disappoints; it’s hard to imagine that this master of menace manages to so totally unintimidating. And the less said about the character of Lester the Jester, the better.

Alakazam the Great (1960)

ALAKAZAM THE GREAT (1960)
aka Saiyu-ki
Article 2898 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-14-2009
Posting Date: 7-20-2009
Directed by Lee Kresel, Daisaku Shirakawa, Osamu Tezuka and Taiji Yabushita
Featuring the voices of Frankie Avalon, Sterling Holloway, Jackie Joseph
Country: Japan

When a monkey becomes king of the animals, the power goes to his head and he seeks to rule the humans as well (with the help of magic he learns from Merlin). His arrogance gets him imprisoned, and in order to gain his release, he must go on a pilgrimage to learn mercy, humility and unselfishness.

I first heard about this movie from the book “The Fifty Worst Films of All Time”. Quite frankly, the movie doesn’t belong on that list, but I can see how it made it. Despite having a good story and making creative use of animation on occasion, the movie has some problems, some of which I’m sure have more to do with changes made to adapt the story to English-speaking audiences. The choice of voice actors is questionable at times and the songs are very weak, but these are minor problems. I think its biggest problem is the music; the score seems to be perpetually frantic, constantly giving the sense that it’s some sort of non-stop action-packed spectacle when it should pull back and take a more lyrical approach much of the time. As a result, the movie ends up having a rather queasy unpleasantness about it, making it much harder to watch than it should be. I don’t know if the original version has this problem, but I suspect that if I watch it again, I may do so with the sound turned off so I won’t be distracted from the visuals. At any rate, I believe there’s a decent animated fantasy underneath all of this.