Curse of the Swamp Creature (1966)

Article 4319 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-27-2013
Directed by Larry Buchanan
Featuring John Agar, Francine York, Jeff Alexander
Country: USA
What it is: Larry Buchanan movie

A mad scientist performs experiments with evolution in the Texas swamps.

For the second day in a row, I’m watching a movie about a monster in the swamps. The two movies even share an actor; Larry Buchanan favorite Bill Thurman, who played the sheriff in the last movie, here plays a dual role as an oil man and the title creature. It’s a loose remake of VOODOO WOMAN with the action moved to the Texas swamps, and unlike some of the other movie Buchanan made for AIP, almost all of the dialogue has been rewritten. Is it any good? Well, let’s just say that Buchanan invests it with the same cinematic skill and insight that he showed on the other movies of his that I’ve covered; in other words, it’s pretty awful. Nevertheless, I do have to tip my hat to a man who was willing to make movies in uncomfortable locations like this one in a swamp at Caddo Lake; it takes a certain amount of dedication and commitment to his calling, and, as bad as his movies were, Larry Buchanan has at least gained a certain amount of fame for his work. He left his mark, such as it is. And with this movie, I’ve completed the catalogue of his genre AIP remakes of the sixties.

Creature from Black Lake (1976)

Article 4318 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-26-2013
Directed by Joy N. Houck Jr.
Featuring Jack Elam, Dub Taylor, Dennis Fimple
Country: USA
What it is: Sasquatch movie

Two college kids from Chicago come to Louisiana to find proof of the existence of a sasquatch.

I first encountered this movie on my local Creature Feature. This was after the rise of “Saturday Night Live” had consigned it to the wee hours of the morning, and the drop of ratings resulted in the program having to cut costs, and the quality of the movies dropped dramatically. About all I could remember about it for years was a scene near the end where the creature attacks a van, and my main impression was that it was a very cheap effort. I was surprised a bit by some of the user comments on IMDB, many of whom consider it a very scary film; still, I notice that the overall IMDB rating of 3.5 shows that a considerable amount of voters are not impressed. My own reaction on this viewing is that if you take for the subgenre it belongs too (Bigfoot movies of the seventies), it may well be in the running as one of the better examples, but the competition isn’t exactly strong, and I still prefer THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK. It has a lot of local color and atmosphere, is generally well acted, The script itself is meandering and weak, though it does have its moments. Still, I didn’t find it particularly scary.

One issue that I occasionally encounter is that some people love movies where the monster remains in the shadows the whole time and you never get a good look at it, such as happens here. I can appreciate their argument that this may be scarier by leaving things to the imagination, and that it often spares us the disappointment of being disappointed by seeing the monster in all its glory. Still, my own reaction is different; yes, I’ve been disappointed by how the monster looks on occasion, but I’ve always been MORE disappointed when the monster is not shown at all. Just my two cents.

Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Article 4317 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-25-2013
Directed by John Milius
Featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow
Country: USA
What it is: Sword and sorcery

A slave trained in the art of war and freed from slavery embarks on a quest to seek vengeance against the evil sorcerer who killed his family.

To my mind, Arnold Schwarzenegger was not an actor of really great range, but during the eighties, I think he was very shrewd in the way that he was able to pick out parts that played to his strengths; he is certainly an ideal choice for the title character. James Earl Jones steals the movie as the villain, Thulsa Doom, and Max von Sydow has a memorable cameo as an old king desperate to recover his daughter from a snake cult. There are also a number of moments here that deliver on the kind of action and spectacle that you’d expect and hope for from this type of story. Nevertheless, I think the movie has a few problems. It’s overlong (the action really drags in the half hour after Conan is freed), overproduced (some of the spectacle seems unnecessary), and, what surprises me most, too civilized; there are times where I feel it’s trying to be lyrical and philosophical rather than barbaric. Personally, I feel the rousing symphonic soundtrack is a mistake, especially when they use it in scenes that would benefit from a much sparer sound; the scene where Conan and friends abduct the daughter from the temple is one that comes to mind. Still, this may be the best sword and sorcery movie I’ve seen, but I’ve not seen a whole lot of competition at this point.

The Conjuror (1899)

aka L’impressionniste fid de siecle, An Up-to-Date Conjuror
Article 4299 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-29-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Magic film

A magician performs various tricks involving making a woman appear and disappear, and then performs the same tricks on himself.

When I first started this movie-watching project, I originally wanted to watch all the movies in a strict chronological order, so I could learn to appreciate the growth of sophistication in the form as I saw it pass before my eyes. However, the logistics of that approach made it impossible; it would have required me to have a complete list of movies beforehand and have access to all the silent films I wanted to see at the very beginning of the project, and that was simply not practical. That’s why I’ve ended up watching movies like this one more than four thousand movies down the line, and I’ve seen so many of Melies’s magic shorts in random order that it is sometimes hard to appreciate their innovations when I’ve already seen them so often in later movies. However, I always like to give more credit to these earlier films in that they were certainly less stale than his later films, and some of the transitions in this one (especially the scenes where he and the woman jump off of a table onto the floor and change into the other character in mid-jump) are so smoothly and effectively done, you know he put a lot of work into them. I’m willing to bet that this short is more important than some of his later magic shorts, and it’s actually quite nice for what it is. I do wonder if my print is complete, though; the film seems to start in the middle of the action, and I think there’s a few seconds of footage missing at the very beginning.

Cauchemar et doux reves (1909)

aka Sweet Dreams Intermingled with Nightmare
Article 4271 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-24-2013
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Featuring Julienne Matthieu
Country: France
What it is: Fantasy trick film

A woman falls asleep by a pond, and has two dreams. The first is a nightmare where she is tormented by trolls. The second takes her to a fairyland where she is romanced by a rich courtier.

This is a cute but rather minor entry from the oeuvre of Segundo de Chomon. For some reason, I can’t think of much to say about this one; the dreams vs. nightmares theme is only mildly interesting but not really compelling, it doesn’t appear to be an imitation of any of the other shorts I’ve seen (but then, plenty of shorts from the era are missing), and it builds up to an okay punch line. All in all, it’s pretty ordinary.

Le cheval emballe (1908)

aka The Runaway Horse
Article 4257 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-27-2013
Directed by Louis J. Gasnier
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Comic chase film

While taking his time on a delivery, a delivery man’s horse helps himself to a bag of oats at a nearby shop. When the delivery man returns to find the bag completely empty, he tries to get away before the shopkeeper discovers, but the horse, energized with eating all those oats, takes off at a breakneck pace, destroying everything in his path.

I’m taking a leap of faith with this film, though I may have the wrong one. The Walt Lee guide gives the title as THE RUNAWAY HORSE, but it lists the director as Ferdinand Zecca (rather than Gasnier), puts its year in 1907 (IMDB lists no movie of this title from 1907, but does list this one as 1908), and claims Max Linder is in the cast (he may be, but neither IMDB nor the movie itself lists any names from its sizable cast). Furthermore, the Walt Lee guide lists the fantastic content as being that a man survives being run over by a steamroller, a scene which does not exist in this one. However, that doesn’t mean this movie is devoid of fantastic content; in one impossible scene, the horse is seen in full gallop running backwards, a trick done by running the film the wrong way. The movie does match the title and the production company (Pathe Freres). So I’m not really sure I have the right movie, so I may have been influenced by two factors; namely, the large amount of unfindable movies on my hunt list means that I haven’t been able to watch as many movies for this series as I’d like, and this one is not only extant but in my collection. It’s pretty amusing, and when you consider much of the action is done with a horse under no visible control, it’s a pretty impressive movie.

Captain Applejack (1931)

Article 4249 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-14-2013
Directed by Hobart Henley
Featuring John Halliday, Mary Brian, Kay Strozzi
Country: USA
What it is: Almost an “old dark house” movie

An aristocrat, bored of his staid existence, decides to sell his ancestral home and take off for a life of adventure. He finds himself in the middle of one when he encounters a Russian duchess on the run from a spy. In the process, he discovers that the ancestral founder of the home was a pirate, and that a fortune may be hidden in the house.

This movie features hidden passages, a concealed treasure, travelers dropping by the mansion in the middle of rainy night when their car breaks down, and a spiritualist. Put these elements together in a different way and you’d have the makings of an “old dark house” thriller for sure, but this one doesn’t arrange them in the usual way, and isn’t trying for that type of thrill. Actually, the most interesting fantastic element in this one is the implication that the main character may actually be something of a reincarnation of his pirate ancestor, and one sequence of the movie takes place aboard a pirate ship, with the various cast members taking on dual roles as pirates and their victims. It’s based on a play, and the first half suffers somewhat from being rather stage-bound, but it opens up a bit in the second half. It’s also rather racy at times in a way that certainly wouldn’t be allowed when the Code went into effect. All in all, this is an interesting curiosity.