Alien Contamination (1980)

ALIEN CONTAMINATION (1980)
aka Contamination
Article 4389 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-10-2013
Directed by Luigi Cozzi
Featuring Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau, Marino Mase
Country: Italy / West Germany
What it is: Alien invasion movie

When a seemingly abandoned ship shows up in New York, it turns out the entire crew was killed by deadly, poisonous green eggs that cause people to explode on contact. It turns out the eggs are extraterrestrial, and there is a plot to infest the world with them…

Here’s another Italian rip-off of a highly successful American movie (in this case, ALIEN), but at least it doesn’t clone the whole movie; it borrows a few elements (alien eggs, an alien creature, and exploding bodies obviously inspired by the chest-buster of the original) and builds a new story out of them. That’s not to say that the story it builds out of them is particularly novel, but then, it’s not the story that is the big selling point of this one; it’s the exploding bodies that are the main attraction, and whenever bodies are not exploding, the movie has all the energy of an empty egg-carton. I don’t know what the Italian dialogue was like, but the dubbed English version is a compendium of dumb cliches on whatever subject comes up in the conversation. It’s probably a good thing that the final monster is kept in the shadows; what you can see of it looks pretty silly. All in all, it’s pretty much for fans of exploding bodies, and I suppose you know who you are.

Autopsia de un fantasma (1968)

AUTOPSIA DE UN FANTASMA (1968)
aka Autopsy of a Ghost
Article 4360 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-7-2013
Directed by Ismael Rodriguez
Featuring Basil Rathbone, John Carradine, Amadee Chabot
Country: Mexico
What it is: Comedy

A ghost, trapped in the basement of the house of an inventor, is given a chance by Satan to release his soul if he can get a woman to fall in love with him and die for him.

Ten thoughts on AUTOPSIA DE UN FANTASMA

1) There’s a lot more going on in this movie than the plot description suggests, but my copy of this movie is in Spanish without subtitles, and the storyline about the ghost is the only one that I found documented enough to use here. There seems to be another plot about various parties trying to get hold of a lot of money; it that is so, then it’s possible that this movie may have been inspired by IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD, and given the aggressively manic nature of this movie, I would consider that a distinct possibility.

2) I suspect that this movie was made with the intention of being released abroad to English-speaking audiences. Not only does the movie feature three English-speaking actors (Carradine, Rathbone and Cameron Mitchell), but all of the signs that appear in the movie have an equivalent English-translated sign as well. Ironically (but not surprisingly), this does not appear to have happened.

3) If there’s one thing you can say about this movie, it does not hold back on its fantastic content. On top of the ghost and Satan, the movie has a talking skeleton, a laughing spider, a sorcerer of some sort who surrounds himself with women in bikinis, two robots, and an assortment of inventions.

4) I have to admit that the best part of the movie for me was the opening credits, which are unveiled by a variety of puppets (ghosts, demons, witches and skeletons). It’s energetic and creative.

5) Given that I didn’t see this movie in English, I should probably reserve judgment on its quality. However, given what I got from the other aspects of this movie (visuals, sound, editing, etc), I suspect that this one is in the running for one of the worst comedies ever made. It’s one of those movies that seems to be desperately and indiscriminately throwing every single comic idea it can muster at you in the hopes that it will stick.

6) This was Basil Rathbone’s last movie. I take my hat off to the guy. Even in this context, you can see that he’s out there trying to give his all.

7) As for the other two English-speaking actors, both John Carradine and Cameron Mitchell are notorious for having appeared in a plethora of horrible movies in their careers. Still, I rarely recall of them appearing together, so I did a search on shared credits on IMDB, and found that they only appeared in three movies together – this one, the dreaded FRANKENSTEIN ISLAND, and a 1986 movie called THE TOMB. If the ratings on IMDB are to be trusted, this movie is the best of the lot.

8) One thing I will say about this movie; with its rapid-fire editing and its non-stop action, it’s full of energy. But then, so is a five-year old overfed with sugar and allowed to run rampant. And for me, watching this movie was like trying to put up with a child like that.

9) One plus I will give the movie is that some of the puppetry work is quite good; the walking, talking skeleton is actually fairly well done.

10) I did laugh once during the movie. At one point of the movie, Rathbone tries to get a woman to fall in love with him by doing the Apache dance with her. It’s the twist the movie gives to this dance that amused me. I suspect this is a joke that’s been waiting to be made for years; it’s a pity it’s in a movie that is mostly just loud and obnoxious.

Alex in Wonderland (1970)

ALEX IN WONDERLAND (1970)
Article 4359 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-6-2013
Directed by Paul Mazursky
Featuring Donald Sutherland, Ellen Burstyn, Meg Mazursky
Country: USA
What it is: Personal art film

A film director whose first full-length film has garnered high critical praise in previews (though still hasn’t had a general release) finds himself pondering his next project.

Let’s get the fantastic content out of the way first; occasionally, the film director’s fantasies about certain ideas for film projects get shown on the screen, with at least one of these (involving smog levels causing death at an airport) verging into the area of science fiction. Beyond that, this is the type of self-indulgent art project that was made by the big studios during the late sixties/early seventies after the runaway success of EASY RIDER (which gets some references here). It’s consciously modeled after 8 1/2 (Fellini even makes a cameo appearance here), but Paul Mazursky just isn’t in the same league as Fellini. Surprisingly, the movie is easy enough to parse out (thanks in part to the clue provided in the opening quote from “Alice in Wonderland”); it’s about the sense of giddiness and uneasiness caused by the success of the last film throwing the director’s life into a new environment (the “Wonderland” of the title), and his sometimes frustrating attempts to come to terms with it. It’s very hit-and-miss; for every scene that hits home, there are a couple that either seem pointless or miss the mark. All in all, it has the air of a film that the director had used to get a lot out of his own system; this probably was good for him, but the results are not necessarily interesting to the outside viewer. If you do watch, keep your eyes open for Angelo Rossitto.

Asylum of Satan (1972)

ASYLUM OF SATAN (1972)
Article 4344 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-22-2013
Directed by William Girdler
Featuring Charles Kissinger, Nick Jolley, Carlo Borelli
Country: USA
What it is: Devil worship, mad doctor style

A female singer finds herself inexplicably transferred to an asylum under the care of a man called Dr. Specter, and his designs on the patient are hardly honorable…

This was the first movie directed by William Girdler. Though nothing of what I’ve seen of his work so far has impressed me, I will say this much; he got better. The most interesting thing about this movie is that it combines the “mad doctor” and “devil worship” movies, and that’s only slightly interesting. The movie is pretty bad on every level. The acting is terrible all around, though the actress playing the heroine is the worst; when she tries to emote, it looks like her primary concern is to make sure she doesn’t smear her make-up. The movie often seems edited at random, and the direction is static and lifeless. It has a plot revelation about two people being the same person that is mostly notable for its total pointlessness. Some of the sets look like they only had one can of paint to use for each one. And you’d think that someone making a virgin sacrifice to Satan would at least have made doubly sure that he had a virgin in the first place. Really, I feel like I’m shooting fish in a barrel here, and it’s the bottom of the barrel as well.

Alone With the Devil (1914)

ALONE WITH THE DEVIL (1914)
aka Expressens Mysterium
Article 4316 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-24-2013
Directed by Hjalmar Davidsen
Featuring Svend Aggerholm, Philip Bech, Moritz Bielawski
Country: Denmark
What it is: Weird melodrama

An industrialist finds himself a victim of the machinations of an arch-rival who will stop at nothing to destroy him… even if it costs the arch-rival his own life.

This movie ended up on my hunt list on the strength of the fact that the arch-rival was a hypnotist who kept the industrialist’s wife under his power. When I was unable to find the movie, it moved to my “ones that got away” list, but I’m happy to say that a copy finally showed up, and the person who passed it on to me was kind enough to add English intertitles to help me follow the story, which would have been impenetrable without them. I have to admit that the basic premise is intriguing; the fact that the arch-rival is so intent on destroying the industrialist that he’s willing to commit suicide in such a way that it looks like the industrialist committed murder makes for a fascinating obsession. Unfortunately, the story that surrounds the premise is badly contrived, and the climax of the movie (in which the industrialist’s chances of being cleared is dependent on the discovery of a missing ring) is handled so blandly and flatly that it fails to generate a modicum of suspense. The movie is interesting, but ultimately it’s unsatisfying.

The Alchemist (1983)

THE ALCHEMIST (1983)
Article 4313 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-20-2013
Directed by Charles Band
Featuring Robert Ginty, Lucinda Dooling, John Sanderford
Country: USA
What it is: Low budget demonic horror movie

A woman and a man she picked up hitchhiking get embroiled in the fate of a man who has been cursed by an alchemist. Things get complicated when the woman turns out to look exactly like the cursed man’s former wife… and the woman the alchemist loved.

Well, I will give the movie at least some credit for the basic story, which is offbeat enough that it isn’t a total waste of time making your way to the ending. Granted, the movie needs all the help it can get; it’s cursed with a badly written script and some very weak acting. Even worse is the lethargic pacing, which is probably due to the fact that there’s too little story stretched out over too much running time. The opening encounter between the woman and the hitchhiker may be one of the most atrocious meet-cutes ever committed to celluloid, and when the movie gets around to unleashing the horde of demons, you’ll be disappointed that there’s only three of them and they’re absurdly easy to kill. Despite all this, the movie does manage to keep from being unwatchable, and there’s the occasional moment that works.

Alcofribas, the Master Magician (1903)

ALCOFRIBAS, THE MASTER MAGICIAN (1903)
aka L’enchanteur Alcofribas
Article 4202 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-13-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies and Jeanne d’Alcy
Country: France
What it is: Magic trick short

A man pays a magician money to conjure up a woman. The man is hoping to court the woman when she appears, but it seems that the magician has other ideas.

This is another of Melies’s magic trick shorts, though it starts out pretending it has a plot with a man trying to get a magician to conjure up a female companion for him. The reason it doesn’t work out that way is simple; the magician is far more interested in showing off his various magic tricks than fulfilling the man’s wishes. So, once he makes a complete woman appear (his first trick only conjures up half a woman), he then uses her as a prop for other tricks, much to the frustration of the man who paid his money. This isn’t one of his better shorts; it looks ragged around the edges and the special effects seem rather clumsy at times. Melies has done better.