The Curse of the Vampires (1966)

THE CURSE OF THE VAMPIRES (1966)
aka CREATURES OF EVIL, IBULONG MO SA HANGIN
Article 2142 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-26-2007
Posting Date: 6-24-2007
Directed by Gerardo de Leon
Featuring Eddie Garcia, Amalia Fuentes, Romeo Vasquez

The patriarch of a country estate is on his deathbed, and places a codicil in his will stating that upon his death the estate will be burned to the ground. His son, who was hoping to inherit the estate, objects to this, but then discovers that there is a curse of evil on his family, and that his mother has become a vampire and is kept chained in the basement.

Sometimes a movie catches you off guard. Given that this is an mid sixties Filipino horror film I fully expected it would be little more than dumb but campy fun. However, as I watched it, I started to notice a few things; for one thing, the characters act with a real emotional resonance to the events that happen; when the son discovers that his mother is now a vampire chained in the basement, his reaction is full of the right mixture of revulsion and grief, and we get a real sense of the tragedy of the situation. These kinds of touches abound, and this compensates somewhat for the fact that the movie wanders somewhat in the plot department and that some of the makeup is quite bad. I’m sure the dubbing hurts it a little, but it does seem as if they got decent actors to do the dubbing as well, and this also helps. I found myself caught up in this one in ways that were totally unexpected. No, it’s not a great movie, but I ended up caring about the characters and what happens to them, and this made the movie much more interesting than I though it would be. And I do have to take my hat off to any movie that manages to kill off practically every major character and still come up with a happy ending. Good show!

 

Castle of the Living Dead (1964)

CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD (1964)
aka IL CASTELLO DEI MORTI VIVI
Article 2140 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-24-2006
Posting Date: 6-22-2007
Directed by Luciano Ricci, Lorenzo Sabatini and Michael Reeves
Featuring Christopher Lee, Gaia Germani, Philippe Leroy

In the chaos after the Napoleanic wars, several roving entertainers are invited to the castle of Count Drago, an eccentric who practices taxidermy. The count is planning on extending his hobby to other life forms, and pretty soon the entertainers begin to die one by one.

Here we have another odd Eurohorror starring Christopher Lee as a Count. This one doesn’t quite work, largely due to bad pacing and poor dubbing (though Christopher Lee and a young Donald Sutherland are for the most part allowed to keep their own voices). Still, there are plenty of odd touches to this one. Mirko Valentin makes for a fairly scary henchman, and Antonio De Martino is quite memorable as the surprisingly heroic dwarf. The discovery of the preserved bird in the tree is fairly striking, and the presence of Donald Sutherland in at least two roles (he may be in a third role, but I can’t remember noticing him in a role as an old man). Sutherland does give a good performance, though his presence is a little jarring; his acting style seems out of place among all the dubbing in the Sgt. Paul role, but in his old witch role, he is dubbed as well. Still, it does give us a fun little moment in which he helps himself off of the floor. Christopher Lee does fine, but his makeup (with big black patches under his eyes) is ineffective. The script was cowritten by Michael Reeves, and he did some uncredited direction as well, but he would get better with his later movies.

 

Captain Mephisto and the Transformation Machine (1966)

CAPTAIN MEPHISTO AND THE TRANSFORMATION MACHINE (1966)
Feature Version of the Serial MANHUNT OF MYSTERY ISLAND
Article 2041 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-16-2006
Posting Date: 3-15-2007
Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet, Yakima Canutt, Wallace Grissell
Featuring Roy Barcroft, Richard Bailey, Linda Stirling

An investigator does battle with a pirate intent on getting his hands on a secret invention.

MANHUNT OF MYSTERY ISLAND is one of the better serials out there, but this feature version of it does no more worthwhile a job of turning it into a workable feature than most of the other attempts at this that I’ve seen, Beyond that, I have little more to say about this one.

I think that if there’s one thing I’m looking forward to in this series, it’s the moment when I finally have done with watching these feature versions of serials. Never more than when I’m watching these do I get the feeling that I’m doing little more than checking a number off of a list. These are also the movies that give me the greatest sense of “cinema as product” (as opposed to “cinema as art” or “cinema as entertainment”), probably because they aren’t even really movies. Even watching Jerry Warren movies at their dullest gives me more of a sense of doing something worthwhile than these do.

Yet, at the same time, there’s a touch of sadness to the whole thing. There’s a part of me that wants every movie to be available, no matter what my opinion is of its worth. These feature versions of serials served a purpose at one time, but that time is long gone, and with the availability and marketability of full serials, I see very little future for these feature versions. Though I’ve watched plenty of them, there are still quite a few that have eluded me entirely, and I think as time goes by, they will only become harder to find. And this saddens me.

MISSILE MONSTERS is the feature version of a serial that has been on my list the longest without my having successfully found a copy. If I ever do find it, I’ll probably think it stinks. But I’ll be glad I found it. And that’s the irony of this whole project.

 

Crucible of Horror (1970)

CRUCIBLE OF HORROR (1970)
aka THE CORPSE
Article 2014 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-19-2006
Posting Date: 2-16-2007
Directed by Viktors Ritelis
Featuring Michael Gough, Yvonne Mitchell, Sharon Gurney

A cruel and abusive man is targeted for murder by his wife and daughter, but things don’t quite go in the direction they expect.

I’ve often wondered how many movies you could describe by merely mentioning the movie which served as a template for it; in this case, I was fairly certain by the halfway point that I was watching a variation of DIABOLIQUE. It may still be one, but I’m not quite sure, largely because the end of the movie didn’t answer my questions. There is the distinct possibility that I may have missed some subtle plot points that explain the whole thing, and that this is one of those movies that you just need to think through before you can come to any conclusions. Unfortunately, this is not a movie I really care to think about; despite the fact that the acting is quite good from all concerned, the movie itself is so dreary and depressing that all I wanted to do after it was over was to shake it off, not think about it. I do have two possible explanations for the ending, but I don’t like either of them. One (which involves figuring out what a fourth character who is not present during most of the main action of the movie may be up to) was what I was anticipating for most of the movie, and the lack of a surprise would have been depressing, and the other (about the mental state of one of the central characters) makes me suspect that most of what happened didn’t happen. Neither of these explanations leave me satisfied, and the various bizarre arty touches (jaggedly edited flashbacks and a preponderance of bizarre close-ups) don’t really do much for me either. All in all, I found this one frustrating and unrewarding.

 

Cinderfella (1960)

CINDERFELLA (1960)
Article 2012 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-17-2006
Posting Date: 2-14-2007
Directed by Frank Tashlin
Featuring Jerry lewis, Ed Wynn, Judith Anderson

The heir to a hidden fortune finds himself oppressed by his stepmother and two stepbrothers. He then meets his fairy godfather, who tells him that he will hin the hand of Princess Charming.

I don’t quite know what to make of this attempt to turn the old fairy tale into a vehicle for Jerry Lewis. Despite having a simple and basic story to use as a template, the script seems more intent with muddying up the proceedings by introducing a subplot about a hidden fortune, making oddball observations about the effect of the Cinderella story, and playing for pathos at all the wrong times. Though I loved Lewis’s comic persona when I was a kid, as an adult I find it gets old quickly, and I think it doesn’t lend itself at all well to the pathos that it strives for on occasion. Also, with the exception of the musical numbers by Count Basie and his orchestra, the music numbers here are extremely weak; Lewis really shouldn’t sing. Still, the movie has an interesting cast, what with Ed Wynn, Judith Anderson, Henry Silva and Robert Hutton on hand; Anderson in particular does an excellent job bringing to life and fleshing out the stepmother. And Lewis did have some real comic gifts; my favorite moment here is when, while listening to a Count Basie number on the radio, he puts on a pantomime of playing the various instruments, a sequence which nonetheless has nothing at all to do with the story.

 

La cabeza de Pancho Villa (1957)

LA CABEZA DE PANCHO VILLA (1957)
aka THE HEAD OF PANCHO VILLA
Article 2009 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-14-2006
Posting Date: 2-11-2007
Directed by Chano Urueta
Featuring Luis Aguilar, Flor Silvestre, Jaime Fernandez

A singing cowboy and his comic-relief sidekick encounter a black-hooded cult which seems interested in a box that is large enough to contain the head of Pancho Villa.

Yes, it’s the fourth unsubtitled and undubbed Mexican movie I’ve seen in a row, and this will happen sometimes; since I order several movies at once, and since you have to go to specialty sites to find these movies, I’m likely to end up reviewing several in a row. The odd thing about this group is that the first three seemed quite different from most of the Mexican movies I’ve seen to date; this one, however, is much more what I’ve come to expect from a Mexican horror movie. It is also fairly impenetrable; I think some of the plot is explained in narration that I can’t understand. It’s a horror western with a singing cowboy, a comic sidekick, a grave-robbing sequence, a mysterious head-sized box, a black hooded cult, an execution device that involves an electric chair attached to a lightning rod, a ghostly long-haired figure, skeletons in a swamp, and a man clad in white who wears a black hood over his head that makes him look like a headless person when he stands against the right background. Though it is possible to laugh about that last special effect, I do think it works better than the long-torso outfits used in other headless man movies. It’s something of a hodge-podge, and I suspect that, if I knew what was going on, that this one would be pretty weak, though still better than SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTER .

Starting tomorrow, back to movies in English!

 

The Chinese Web (1979)

THE CHINESE WEB (1979)
aka SPIDER-MAN: THE DRAGON’S CHALLENGE
Article 1999 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-4-2006
Posting Date: 2-1-2007
Directed by Don McDougall
Featuring Nicholas Hammond, Robert F.Simon, Rosalind Chao

When a Chinese politician finds himself under suspicion of murder and selling military secrets, he comes to the United States in the hope of locating the men who can clear his name. He appeals to J. Jonah Jameson for help, who puts Peter Parker on the case. However, an industrialist, who will lose a billion-dollar contract if the politician remains alive, decides to have the politician killed, and it is up to Spider-Man to protect him.

This movie is two episodes of the the 1978 “Spider-Man” series edited together to make a feature, and since the two episodes are part of the same story, it comes across better than those attempts where they try to edit together episodes that have nothing to do with each other. I’m not really a big fan of the live-action superhero TV series of the seventies; it always struck me that the limitations of the medium required some heavy compromise; the heroes themselves had their powers curtailed, and were usually given only ordinary villains to contend with rather than the super-villains you would find in the comics. Apparently, both “Wonder Woman” and “The Incredible Hulk” were successful enough to overcome this; in fact, I’d go so far to say that the TV version of the Hulk is more well-known and widely accepted than the comic book version. This series was not the success of those others.

In terms of the compromises the series made with the comic version, the biggest problem I have is the conversion of the cantankerous, bad-tempered and near-villainous character of J. Jonah Jameson into a nice older guy who has no problem with Spider-Man at all; this takes all the flavor out of his character. As for the whole “movie” itself, the writing is pretty weak, the action is tepid, and the acting is uneven. Though Spider-Man still has is Spidey sense intact, having him show it by freeze-framing him and having his eyes flash is pretty weak, and his ability to react with a faster reaction time is not in evidence; he is shot twice here. Though he still has most of his powers, he doesn’t use them near as often as the situations warrant. The first half of the movie works best, but by the time the action moves to Hong Kong in the second half, it becomes rather repetitive and dull.