Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (1969)

Article 3360 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-13-2010
Posting Date: 10-26-2010
Directed by Anthony Newley
Featuring Anthony Newley, Joan Collins, Alexander Newley
Country: UK
What it is: Art film, vanity project style

Heironymus Merkin, feeling the onset of old age, makes a movie that tells the true story of his life to that point.

If this movie is more or less an autobiographical account of Anthony Newley’s life up to that point (I haven’t read any extensive biographies about him, but IMDB’s mini-biography matches up somewhat to the some of the story points here), then he at least should be given credit for not painting himself as better than he really was; his character comes across as a selfish jerk whose main redeeming point is that he’s aware that he’s a selfish jerk. And at least he didn’t call his movie ONE (as in reference to Fellini calling his film 8 1/2), as this was his first directorial effort. In fact, the script name-drops Fellini as well as Bergman. He casts his own children to play his children, and his own wife at the time (Joan Collins) as his wife; apparently, Collins has said that the movie contributed to the decline of her marriage to Newley, and if the movie paints any sort of real portrait of him, you can see why. Still, when it comes to art films, I’ll opt for anything by Fellini or Bergman over this one; despite the autobiographical bent of it all, it seems somewhat superficial and lacking in depth. I doubt that rewatching the movie would unlock anything more than I got the first time. As it was, I mostly found myself waiting for the various appearances of George Jessel (as the Presence) so I could hear his next joke. The fantastic content here is the usual trappings of a movie of this sort; Newley visualizes himself as a puppet and as an automaton with a mouth and a wind-up key, most of the action takes place inexplicably on a beach, and near the end there’s a fairy-tale sequence involving an enchanted donkey. The movie got an X rating initially, partially for the nudity and partially for a story line involving the main character’s involvement with an underage girl. I don’t really hate the movie (quite frankly, I found the distancing techniques kept me from attaching to it in any emotional way), but I think there’s less here than meets the eye.


Adventures of Captain Africa, Mighty Jungle Avenger (1955)

Article 3357 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-10-2010
Posting Date: 10-23-2010
Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet
Featuring John Hart, Rick Vallin, Ben Welden
Country: USA
What it is: Bargain basement serial thrills

Captain Africa, Mighty Jungle Avenger, helps a deposed caliph regain his throne.

This serial was originally intended to be a sequel to Columbia’s THE PHANTOM, but after they completed it they discovered that their option to make a sequel to the previous serial had expired. Therefore, they brought back some of the actors and reshot some of the scenes to make it look like a different hero, one Captain Africa, was doing the heroics. To me, the serial looks like it was cobbled together mostly from footage of other serials (especially THE PHANTOM), with the new actors standing around and looking at things and having conversations. The plot feels like it was barely thrown together, and everyone seems detached from the action. To my mind, this is one lousy serial with virtually nothing to redeem it, yet I find it sitting on IMDB with a 7.2 rating. Now, I know that serials like this are only rated by people who love serials to begin with, but there are far worthier serials out there to defend. The fantastic content: Captain Africa magically appears and disappears in front of the jungle tribes (explained in THE PHANTOM but not here) and Captain Africa consults a crystal ball on occasion.

Crypt of the Living Dead (1973)

aka La tumba de la isla maldita
Article 3335 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-15-2010
Posting Date: 10-1-2010
Directed by Julio Salvador and Ray Danton
Featuring Andrew Prine, Patty Shepard and Mark Damon
Country: USA / Spain
What it is: Vampire flick

A man visits an island to bury his archaeologist father whose body is trapped beneath an ancient tomb. In order to retrieve his father’s body, he removes the seal of the tomb and releases a vampire who has been trapped inside for 700 years.

One of the alternate titles of this movie is HANNAH, QUEEN OF THE VAMPIRES, which makes for a handy title if you want to have an Andrew Prine double feature along with SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES. I’ve heard tell that this movie had new footage added for its American release, but I’ve also heard that it had footage cut for the Spanish release. I’ve also heard that it’s in color, but my copy happens to be in black and white for some reason. The movie has a poor reputation, and I can understand that; it’s occasionally campy, often slow, and the structure is rather confusing at times. Yet, I was rather taken with it; the atmosphere was nice, it has some interesting story touches, the location footage from Turkey is interesting, and the final battle with the vampire is striking to say the least. No, it’s not a great movie, but I thought it worked well enough.

Criminally Insane (1975)

Article 3334 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-14-2010
Posting Date: 9-30-2010
Directed by Nick Millard
Featuring Priscilla Alden, Michael Flood, Jane Lambert
Country: USA
What it is: Serial killer movie

An overweight woman named Ethel with rage issues is released from a hospital to the care of her grandmother. When the grandmother tries to follow the doctor’s instructions to force Ethel to lose weight, Ethel flips out and kills her. She then finds herself having to continue her murderous rampage in order to keep herself fed and cover up the crimes.

I’ve encountered Nick Millard before as the director and writer of the extreme-low-budget SATAN’S BLACK WEDDING. This may be his most famous movie; at least it was famous enough that he felt compelled to make a sequel. It’s awful, but also fascinating; the concept of using gluttony as motivation for a serial killer is tasteless but also darkly comic, and the white-trash characters (Ethel’s sister is a nymphomaniac/prostitute who brings men into the home every night and makes out with her abusive regular lover in front of her sister) give the movie an interesting context in which the story works. It’s also complicated by the fact that Ethel is simply none too bright, and her inability to figure out how to dispose of the growing pile of bodies combined with her sloppiness will prove her undoing. The special effects are atrocious, and it makes some ill-advised stabs at artiness, but these just add somewhat to the fascination. It’s like some freaky cross between REPULSION and CANNIBAL MAN, and the ending twist has the air of inevitability given the setup, though I do have to admit that I had suspicions the story would eventually go in that direction. I have to admit that, as awful as it is, the movie more or less works, and I’ve seen plenty of much bigger-budgeted movies that don’t.

The Cremators (1972)

Article 3333 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-13-2010
Posting Date: 9-29-2010
Directed by Harry Essex
Featuring Maria De Aragon, Marvin Howard, Eric Allison
Country: USA
What it is: Alien invasion movie

People are being incinerated by a giant rolling ball of fire from outer space. A scientist tries to figure out what is going on.

The only name I recognized from the opening credits was for the original music; it’s none other than Bert I. Gordon favorite Albert Glasser. His music attempts to instill suspense and terror by blaring at you, and it’s not unlike having someone grab you by the shoulders and shake you while screaming “Be Scared! Be Scared!”, and your reaction is much the same; no fear, but a great amount of annoyance. But at least he’s out there trying to generate excitement when everyone else in the movie seems to be sleepwalking; the movie is unfocused, torpid, muddled, confusing and dull. It has a handful of nice effects (the wind blowing away the ashes of the incinerated people, the glowing rocks, the fireball rising from the water) which are then overused to the point where they too become boring. The movie was directed by Harry Essex, who worked on the scripts for IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, but this is much more similar to his previous directorial effort, OCTAMAN; in fact, it was probably the worst movie he ever worked on. Forgettable.

Countess Dracula (1975)

Article 3332 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-12-2010
Posting Date: 9-28-2010
Directed by Peter Sasdy
Featuring Ingrid Pitt, Nigel Green, Sandor Eles
Country: UK
What it is: Hammer’s version of the Countess Bathory story

When an aging countess discovers that the blood of a chambermaid restores her youth, she has her own daughter kidnapped and proceeds to impersonate her, and she romances a young horseman. But she discovers that the youth she has regained is temporary, and so she must kill again…

This movie seems to be mostly famous as a vehicle for the beautiful Ingrid Pitt, and that is perhaps what it should be remembered for; it’s pretty difficult to take your eyes off of her or her costumes. Beyond that, I like the period flavor of the movie as well as the fact that it addresses the theme of class distinction at least marginally. Beyond these elements, though, I find this one of Hammer’s most forgettable movies, more interested in palace intrigue and soap opera than in horror. The plot is pretty predictable; I was in particular not surprised to discover who the final sacrifice victim was going to be. I’d have to rank this overall as one of Hammer’s most disappointing movies.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Article 3324 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-4-2010
Posting Date: 9-20-2010
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Featuring Roddy McDowall, Don Murray, Ricardo Montalban
Country: USA
What it is: Fourth in the PLANET OF THE APES movie series

After having been raised secretly by a circus owner, the son of Cornelius and Zira is appalled to discover that during his life at the circus, apes have been enslaved by humans and forced to perform menial tasks. However, he becomes a fugitive when he is heard to speak in reaction to abuse given to a fellow ape, and when his owner dies trying to protect him, he vows to lead his ape brothers in revolution against their tyrannic masters.

When PLANET OF THE APES spawned a whole series of movies, this one seemed inevitable; eventually, a movie would have to made about the ape revolution, and here it is. It’s really a tribute to Roddy McDowall’s acting abilities, and once again he delivers despite having to emote through elaborate make-up. I’m less impressed with the story as a whole; it’s a little too one-dimensional and repetitive, and the ending features way too many speeches. It’s also a little short of humor, though it does have a few stray moments, especially when Caesar starts his revolution by having the apes start performing certain small but amusing acts of rebellion. In the end, the movie ends up being a little too ordinary. Granted, from the sound of it, the movie was compromised for its initial release; its original ending was considered too dark, and the final speech was amended to be less so. This is a shame; they could have come up with a better fifth movie if the ending of this one hadn’t been compromised.