The Black Zoo (1963)

BLACK ZOO (1963)
Article 2138 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-22-2007
Posting Date: 6-20-2007
Directed by Robert Gordon
Featuring Michael Gough, Jeanne Cooper, Rod Lauren

A zoo owner uses his wild animals to dispense with his enemies.

The three movies made by Michael Gough for Herman Cohen in the late fifties and early sixties (HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, KONGA and this one) are something of a piece; Gough plays for all practical purposes the same character in all three: a man who has a smooth way of dealing with the authorities, but is brutal and abusive to those close to him and resorts to murder to do away with his enemies. This is the most obscure of the three movies; it’s nowhere near as good as HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, and even though I think it’s better than KONGA, it’s not as amusing as that one is in the final analysis. Still, I must confess that I’m not a big fan of Cohen’s work; I find it often lacking in subtlety, and there is a tendency toward shrillness (the characters scream at each other a lot). For me, the best things about this one are the presence of some familiar faces; Elisha Cook Jr. pops on the scene just long enough to die a horrible death, Rod Lauren was always interesting playing disturbed teens, and Edward Platt of “Get Smart” fame gets to play the chief of police, and I must admit to being tickled the moment one of the characters calls him “Chief”. My favorite moment is an unexpected one; Michael Gough attends a meeting of animal lovers known as the True Believers, and they give him a young tiger to replace his recently deceased one named Baron, and then they perform a ceremony to transfer Baron’s lost soul into the new beast.

 

The Birds (1963)

THE BIRDS (1963)
Article 2125 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-9-2007
Posting Date: 6-7-2007
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Featuring Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy

A rich playgirl goes to Bodega Bay to play a practical joke on a lawyer she met in a pet store. Their lives are interrupted when birds in the area beginning attacking people.

When it comes to his forays into genre territory, Hitchcock’s PSYCHO seems to be the one that garners most of the attention and acclaim. Though that movie certainly deserves it, I prefer this one, his foray into the “nature gone wild” subgenre, and a truly harrowing film in its own right. With this viewing, I couldn’t help but notice how well he develops the characters and situations during the first half of the movie, despite the fact that they don’t really have much to do with the bird attacks which are the central elements to the plot. Actually, this contributes quite a bit to the madness; the bird attacks take on the feel of an interruption of our normal lives as any big disaster does. I also notice how Hitchcock is able to build tension even in scenes that don’t overtly require it; for example, there’s some real tension in the scene with the man in the elevator, even though his only purpose is to pass on information to Tippi Hedren’s character. I also find that the movie (especially in the final scenes) has a strong similarity to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (boarded up house, character in shock, etc.), and I wonder if Romero was influenced by this one. And even though there is some controversy about the ending of the movie (some people are disappointed by it because it promises an event that doesn’t happen), I find it perfect; I’ve always felt that the reason the promised event doesn’t happen is because it doesn’t need to happen, and the final scene, more than any other moment I’ve seen in the movies, leaves me with the feeling that I’m staring right into the face of the apocalypse. Great performances from all abound, with 88-year old Ethel Griffies nearly stealing the movie as an ornithologist.

 

The Beast That Killed Women (1965)

THE BEAST THAT KILLED WOMEN (1965)
Article 2123 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-7-2007
Posting Date: 6-5-2007
Directed by Barry Mahon
Featuring Juliet Anderson, Janet Banzet, Darlene Bennett

A gorilla is on the loose in a nudist camp. Mayhem and bouncing abound.

For some reason the original review I wrote of this one vanished from the source I kept it. In some cases when this happen, I watch the movie again and write a new review. Sometimes, I just go by memory and write a new review. I’ve chosen the latter in this case; I remember it just enough that I find little reason to bother watching it again.

I recall that the cast in the movie was said to consist of “the most beautiful nudists in Florida”; these may not be the exact words, but I’m pretty sure that’s the gist of it. I’ll have to take their word for it; I don’t have firsthand knowledge of the nudists in Florida to make any disagreement. Still, the very fact that they announced the cast this way should be enough to tell you that this is essentially a nudie, and the Beast (a man in a crummy ape suit) is disposable. Barry Mahon himself appears in the movie; if he’s one of the nudists, I don’t want to know. Perhaps the most impressive thing is how you can have a cast mostly of naked people and still manage to avoid full frontal nudity, but the trick is simple; if the person is totally nude, they have their back to you; if they’re wearing some sort of underwear, they’re facing you. Of course, a well-positioned camera is essential as well, and shrubbery proves quite useful. I’m tempted to dismiss the movie by saying that there’s nothing worthwhile to see here, but somehow, that isn’t quite what I mean.

 

Brewster McCloud (1970)

BREWSTER MCCLOUD (1970)
Article 2095 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-10-2006
Posting Date: 5-8-2007
Directed by Robert Altman
Featuring Bud Cort, Sally Kellerman, Michael Murphy

A boy lives in a fallout shelter in the Houston Astrodome and is building a flying machine with the help of a Guardian named Louise, but against the will of the rest of the world.

At the time of this viewing and the writing of this review, Robert Altman has been dead for one month. I found myself thinking about how I feel about Altman’s oeuvre; though I have an immense respect for the man and his talents, I’m not sure whether I can really call myself a “fan” of him per se. The problem is that I haven’t seen enough of his output to really come to any conclusion. Though I’m aware he had a lengthy career before MASH (I’ve already covered COUNTDOWN as part of this series), I find it convenient to begin with that one as the moment where he truly developed his style and entered the pantheon of great directors. But I only remember seeing four of his movies, and I found myself somewhat disappointed by MASH, and MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER quite frankly left me cold, and these are two of his critical favorites. I found myself much more entertained by two of his weirder experiments, 3 WOMEN and this one, BREWSTER MCCLOUD.

This is basically a bizarre but original comedy, with a touch of science fiction (that flying device) and possibly some fantasy elements, depending on how you interpret certain details and events, and maybe even a touch of horror; to the police anyway, the strangulation murders must seem like the work of a serial killer. I find the movie fascinating and quite hilarious at times; in particular, the movie’s send-up of BULLITT (and, perhaps inadvertently, the entire cop-who-doesn’t-play-by-the-rules genre) is inspired. I also love some of the ambiguities; for example, who exactly is Louise (the Sally Kellerman character) and what caused those wing-shaped scars on her back? Is she Brewster’s mother? – he never refers to her as such. Is she his guardian angel? – she does seem to be on the spot whenever Brewster is in trouble, even at times where she should have no idea that he is in trouble (at the photo lab, for instance). And who is the actual strangler – Brewster or Louise?

Another great thing about the movie is the wealth of strong actors playing interesting characters – Margaret Hamilton as a temperamental soprano, Stacy Keach as a tyrannical old man who is a third brother to Wilbur and Orville Wright, Rene Auberjonois as the bird-obsessed lecturer who serves as our guide to the story, Shelley Duvall (her debut) as an airheaded tour guide, Michael Murphy as the cop-who-doesn’t-play-by-the-rules, and John Schuck as a cop-who-does-play-by-the-rules who befriends him. And, or course, there is Bud Cort in the title role.

Quite frankly, I love this strange movie, and it is my favorite of the ones I’ve seen of Altman’s to this point. I don’t know how many others of his I’ll be seeing for this series (though QUINTET, POPEYE and 3 WOMEN are all possibilities). However, I do look forward to them.

 

Bob’s Electric Theater (1906)

BOB’S ELECTRIC THEATER (1906)
aka LE THEATRE DE BOB
Article 2055 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-30-2006
Posting Date: 3-29-2007
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Featuring Three Kids, Two Fighting Puppets, and a Tumbling Vaudevillian Puppet with Big Feet

Three kids decide to keep themselves entertained by watching a four act play on Bob’s Electric Theater.

Act 1 – Two puppets come out. They fight.
Act 2 – Two puppets come out. They fight.
Act 3 – Two puppets come out. They fight.
Act 4 – A tumbling vaudevillian puppet with big feet comes out. He tumbles.

This early work of stop-motion animation is fairly entertaining as an early example of that sort of thing, and the hand tinting is quite charming. The plot needs a little work, though, despite the unforeseeable twist in act four. I wonder if Ken’s Electric Theater is any better. Or maybe Hubie’s Electric Theater down the block.

Today, children have television and video games.

I’ll leave it to you to decide if this is progress.

 

Blast Off (1956)

BLAST OFF (1956)
TV-Movie edited from “Rocky Jones, Space Ranger”
Article 2048 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-23-2006
Posting Date: 3-22-2007
Directed by Hollingsworth Morse
Featuring Richard Crane, Sally Mansfield, Paul Marion

Rocky Jones and Bobby are forced to land on an unexplored planet when their ship suffers damage in a meteor cluster. There they find a band of primitive men who mistake them for gods who have promised to return.

I’ve always held that the Rocky Jones “movies” are best watched with an awareness of just what they are; episodes of a low-budget syndicated juvenile science fiction adventure series edited together. It helps that the groups of episodes were meant to tell a single story in each case, but I do advise taking a little break every twenty-five minutes at the point where each episode ends; the stiffness and slow pace are much better taken in small doses. If you have a little sympathy for its innate limitations, you might find things to like about them.

For those wishing to try the series, this might be a good one to start with. The show developed its own little mythology, and sometimes it’s a little hard to keep track of the various characters, but this one is fairly self-contained. The concept of space travelers being mistaken as gods by a primitive tribe is common enough, though I’m not sure I can think of a movie or TV show that featured the plot previous to this one. Science fiction movie fans may also enjoy the presence of Donna Martell (who played Briteis in PROJECT MOON BASE) and Don Megowan (THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US, THE CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS) as two of the cave people.

If I’ve calculated correctly, there should be only two more of the Rocky Jones movies to go…

 

Blood Sabbath (1972)

BLOOD SABBATH (1972)
Article 2038 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-13-2006
Posting Date: 3-12-2007
Directed by Brianne Murphy
Featuring Anthony Geary, Susan Damante-Shaw, Sam Gilman

A guilt-ridden Vietnam vet falls in love with a water nymph who cannot be his lover because he has a soul. However, luckily (or unluckily) for him, there is a nearby witch’s coven which will gladly take his soul. However, there’s a catch…

You know, I really can’t help but admire a movie that really tries to be different. Of course, that doesn’t mean the movie will work, and this bizarre cross between seventies witch movies, NIGHT TIDE, LOVE STORY and ORGY OF THE DEAD, with romantic meadow-romping, tepid gore effects, crass exploitation (it really should be called BOOB SABBATH, if you get my drift) and bad acting is, in a word, awful. Tony Geary would, of course, go on to be a mainstay in the soap opera “General Hospital”; I’ve never seen that show, but his acting here is certainly nothing to recommend. It’s one of those movies where people yell a lot when they want to express emotion (that is, if they aren’t romping around the meadow or running around naked). Incidentally, did you know the way you lose your soul involves being caressed by a coven of naked witches? Sure, it sounds like fun, all right, but based on Geary’s performance, I can only come to the conclusion that it really hurts. Granted, I’ve never been in a position to try it myself…