Beast from Haunted Cave (1959)

BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE (1959)
Article 1818 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-7-2006
Posting Date: 8-4-2006
Directed by Monte Hellman
Featuring Michael Forest, Sheila Noonan, Frank Wolff

A group of thieves pull off a heist of gold bars and lay low in a cabin in the wilderness. However, they soon find themselves threatened by a mysterious monster.

There’s a lot of things I like about the this movie, most of which have to do with Griffith’s script. It’s one of those cases where the monster action is forced to take back seat to the heist plot, but the characters are rather interesting, and if it weren’t for the rather sluggish pace of the movie, it would hold the attention just fine. What I find most interesting is the way Griffith was able to rework script ideas and stories into new forms. This is apparently a remake of NAKED PARADISE, though that movie (which I haven’t seen) has no monster. Furthermore, this movie would later be rewritten as CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA as a comedy. Comparing these two movies is fascinating; I love the way Griffith would borrow and rework characters, sometimes keeping them basically the same (both movies feature an eccentric oddball who falls for a portly native woman), and sometimes reversing the situation completely (whereas the kept woman in this movie tempts the hero in her attempt to get away from her abusive lover, the equivalent character in CREATURE is thoroughly content with her relationship with a criminal and rebuffs the hero’s every attempt to draw her away from him). I also think the monster is fairly cool looking, but I also think it was a good idea that you never get a really good look at it either.

Battle of the Worlds (1961)

BATTLE OF THE WORLDS (1961)
aka Il Pianeta degli uomini spenti
Article 1817 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-6-2006
Posting Date: 8-3-2006
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Featuring Claude Rains, Bill Carter, Umberto Orsini

A stray planet enters the solar system and gives every indication of colliding with the Earth. When the planet goes into orbit around the Earth instead, a scientist begins to fear that the planet is controlled by outside forces and that an attack is imminent.

This is perhaps the best known of Antonio Margheriti’s Italian science fiction epics. It’s also probably his best foray into the genre, though I don’t think this is necessarily due to Margheriti’s direction. I’m still annoyed by his poor use of sound, especially when he tries for a montage sequence, and for some reason, despite the fact that most of the cast seems to be actually speaking English, the movie still sounds as if it were badly dubbed. No, this one’s strength lies in the fact that he actually got a distinguished actor for the lead: Claude Rains. Granted, it’s far from his best performance; in my humble opinion, Rains didn’t age well acting-wise (and he doesn’t really look well, either), and his performance is quite uneven here, as he occasionally seems to be having trouble with his lines and he overacts on more than one occasion. However, he still had that ability to command attention, and his presence gives the movie a solid center and an anchor which I find to be missing in Margheriti’s other science fiction movies. This is also the one I’ve seen the most often, and the plot has actually sorted itself out to the point that I can follow it easily. These factors go a long ways towards making up for the less successful parts of the movie. The first time around it’s confusing and finally boring, but if you keep focused on Rains, you’ll come through all right.

Beauty and the Beast (1962)

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1962)
Article 1816 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-5-2006
Posting Date: 8-2-2006
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Featuring Joyce Taylor, Mark Damon, Eduard Franz

A princess is betrothed to a prince who is cursed to turn into a werewolf every night.

Edward L. Cahn can do some interesting work on low-budget horror and science fiction, but he wouldn’t be my choice for a color fantasy movie. Furthermore, with the Cocteau and Disney versions out there for the pickings, there seems to be precious little reason to pick this version out of the bunch. Granted, it takes a different tack on the tale, but not a particularly strong one. For one thing, with our beast only being a beast for half of the day at a time, it’s not near as big a sacrifice for the princess to commit her love to him. Furthermore, even when the prince turns into the beast, he remains coherent and decidedly non-wild; he is merely ugly. He’s not even that ugly, as a matter of fact; Jack Pierce does the makeup here, and it’s the same makeup from THE WOLF MAN with minor variations. The production is pretty and colorful, but singularly short of magic, and the acting is pretty variable, with Eduard Franz and Walter Burke giving the best performances. There are a few nice touches here and there, but the turgid pace is another minus. There’s no point in settling for this version with the other ones out there.

The Brain Machine (1956)

THE BRAIN MACHINE (1956)
Article 1804 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-21-2006
Posting Date: 7-21-2006
Directed by Ken Hughes
Featuring Maxwell Reed, Elizabeth Allan, Patrick Barr

A woman doctor believes an amnesia patient may be mentally unbalanced when she compares the results of a brain wave test with those of a known psychotic. When the patient leaves before she can do anything about it, she informs the police, who can do nothing because he has not yet committed a crime. Shortly after this, however, she is kidnapped by the patient…

Several plot outlines of this movie claim that the machine itself renders its subjects psychotic. Had this been true, this movie would have definitely fallen in the realm of science fiction. This is not the case, however; the machine merely records their thought waves, and though it would take someone with more of experience with these tests and machines to make the real call here, I’m suspecting that there’s nothing here that falls out of the bounds of the scientific knowledge at the time. Hence, the fantastic elements of this movie are at best marginal, and probably non-existent in science fiction terms, and though the madness that figures into the plot may nudge it a little in the direction of horror, it really doesn’t nudge it far enough. At heart, this is a basic crime thriller, and not really a bad one. It does strain credibility at times, but never so much to do it any real damage. Its biggest problem is that the climax of the movie emphasizes the actions of some of the less sympathetic characters in the movie, while the ones we care most about are not at all at risk at this point. Director Ken Hughes would later direct another movie I’ve covered for this series, CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG .

Black Oxen (1923)

BLACK OXEN (1923)
Article 1789 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-6-2006
Posting Date: 7-6-2006
Directed by Frank Lloyd
Featuring Corinne Griffith, Conway Tearle, Tom Ricketts

When a mysterious woman shows up who looks identical to a woman who married into royalty many years ago, an aspiring playwright falls in love with her. He then discovers that she is actually the same woman as the one she resembled, but who had undergone treatments to bring back her youth.

I’m not sure if I’ve seen the complete print of this movie; I’ve heard that only parts of it exist. The rejuvenation angle places it in the realm of science fiction, and in some ways, it does explore the impact that such a rejuvenation process might have. However, since the movie is more of a romance drama than anything else, the primary question it asks is whether the playwright will still want the woman now that he knows that she is really old. The movie itself is mildly amusing, but very slight as a result. In fact, the greatest sociological impact that this movie sees this scientific advance as having is that elderly women would be able to compete with younger women for men, and in this process, might actually teach them something in the way of good manners (the lack of which is exemplified by the role played by Clara Bow here). All in all, it’s more of a curiosity than a classic, though it’s so rare, I feel fortunate at just having had the chance to nab a copy.

Blood of the Zombie (1961)

BLOOD OF THE ZOMBIE (1961)
(a.k.a. THE DEAD ONE)
Article #1763 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-11-2006
Posting Date: 6-10-2006
Directed by Barry Mahon
Featuring John MacKay, Linda Ormond, Monica Davis

A man takes his new bride to the plantation near New Orleans which falls into his possession at the time of his marriage. However, the woman who runs the plantation has no intention of giving it up, and plans to use voodoo to help her.

Some thoughts on BLOOD OF THE ZOMBIE…

1) This is the type of movie that opens with the resurrection of a zombie in the first two minutes, and then doesn’t get back to the zombie until the movie is almost three quarters over, at which time, the same resurrection footage is used one more time.

2) This is the type of movie that, despite the fact that it has a running time of only sixty-eight minutes, still feels compelled to spend the first fifteen minutes of the movie having our hero and heroine take a tour of New Orleans to see jazz musicians and exotic dancers while resolutely refusing to advance the plot.

3) This is also the type of movie in which, once they do get to the plot, you wish they had spent more time with the jazz musicians and exotic dancers.

4) This is the type of movie in which the zombie of the title looks like the recent incarnation of Michael Jackson. With all that funky drumming that goes on during his attack sequences, you’d think he’d have a found a little time to do a moonwalk or something, but no such luck.

5) This is the type of movie in which the zombie gets confused by the fact that there are two women in the house and so kills the wrong one. Good help is so hard to find.

6) This is the type of movie where the sound quality varies each time the story moves to a new location.

7) This is the type of movie with which you can play the DS Alternate Title Game. The game is simple; try to figure out whether the movie you are watching is using its original title or an alternate title just by watching the opening credits. In this case, it’s definitely using the alternate title, as I noticed that the title comes on during a freeze frame of the current action, which jumps ahead several seconds when the rest of the credits roll. This game has become a new hobby of mine.

8) This is the type of movie where the worst actress in the film is playing a character with the same first name as her own. I don’t know about you, but if I ever gave a really stinky performance on stage, I would hope it would with a character that didn’t share my first name.

9) This is the type of movie where, when the voodoo priestess tells the handyman that they have to redo the voodoo ceremony (because the zombie killed the wrong woman), he pauses just long enough for you to figure out that he’d much rather spend his time staring at the pinup on the wall.

10) Finally, this is the type of movie that is directed by a man whose own life story would have made a much better movie. In fact, it did; the character played by Steve McQueen in THE GREAT ESCAPE was loosely based on that of our director, war hero Barry Mahon, who helped build escape tunnels while he was a prisoner at Stalag Luft III. He was also a personal pilot and later a manager for Errol Flynn. He was also the first movie producer to use computer technology in production of theatrical and TV-Movies for Columbia Pictures. I’m glad that in these ways he really made his mark on the world of cinema, because, based on what I’ve seen of his work, I think he’s better off remembered for these other accomplishments than for his abilities as a director.

Blood and Lace (1971)

BLOOD AND LACE (1971)
Article #1748 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-27-2005
Posting Date: 5-26-2006
Directed by Philip S. Gilbert
Featuring Gloria Grahame, Milton Selzer, Len Lesser

A girl whose mother was killed by a murderer using a hammer is sent to an orphanage. There she has to deal with her nightmares (about an ugly hammer-wielding maniac), her dictatorial headmistress (who keeps dead bodies in her cellar) and the brutal handyman.

“The Psychotronic Film Guide” says that this movie is one of the sickest to ever receive a PG rating (or GP, as it was known as the time). And when it lists the various sick elements of the movie, it has a definite point to make; this movie has a wealth of disturbing elements about it. So how did it end up with its mild rating? I can only attribute this to the fact that, despite all the horrible happenings, the movie seems to project an attitude that I can only describe as blase and slightly bored. It’s a bizarre attitude for a horror movie, and it might have worked if the movie had also aspired to being a comedy, but as far as I can tell, it’s supposed to be taken straight. This probably goes a ways towards explaining why this remains director Philip S. Gilbert’s sole credit. The performances of the adults aren’t bad (Gloria Grahame’s is quite interesting, as a matter of fact), and familiar faces abound; you’ll recognize Milton Selzer, Len Lesser and Vic Tayback. The performances of the juveniles are less so, but it’s really the listless direction that drags the movie down. Don’t confuse this one with a Mario Bava movie with a similar title.