Death is a Number (1951)

DEATH IS A NUMBER (1951)
Article 2622 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-9-2008
Posting Date: 10-17-2008
Directed by Robert Henryson
Featuring Terence Alexander, Lesley Osmond, Denis Webb
Country: UK

An advocate of numerology tells us the story of a friend of his who was cursed by the presence of the number 9 in his life, a consequence thsy will bring about his death.

You know, sometimes I feel like objecting to a movie purely in terms of its failing to make effective use of the medium of cinema. Though all of the blather about numerology is as scary as Count Floyd, there’s a certain amount of creativity to some of the low-budget special effects, and some of the events in the middle section of the movie (in which ghosts and a strange window play a part) have a certain eerie charm. Unfortunately, most of the movie is told via tiresome narration, so much so that it often feels like you’re not watching a movie, but having somebody tell you the story (though with an ulterior motive of explaining numerology to you). This one might have been a much better movie had it tried to tell its story visually, dump the narration, stick to the ghost section of the story in the middle, and remove the numerology undercurrent. As it is, it feels more like the first draft of a movie that still needed a lot of work. Still, at only fifty minutes, it doesn’t really wear out its welcome.

 

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I diavoli di Spartivento (1963)

I DIAVOLI DI SPARTIVENTO (1963)
aka The Devils of Spartivento, Weapons of Vengeance
Article 2599 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-17-2008
Posting Date: 9-24-2008
Directed by Leopoldo Savano
Featuring John Drew Barrymore, Scilla Gabel, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart
Country: Italy/France

Rebels battle evil tyrants, or true Prince against pretender to the throne; I’m not sure which.

The vague plot description above is just my way of saying that I’m watching this one in unsubtitled Italian, and the precise plot details are lost to me. Nonetheless, it does involve a group of rebels with a charismatic leader doing battle with the forces of an evil lord. It’s basically a period swashbuckler piece, and the fantastic content is that the rebels enter an ostensibly haunted forest and encounter a follower of Da Vinci, who is trying to bring his scientific ideas to life, so in the course of the movie we have a series of anachronistic inventions (including a device that can launch multiple arrows, a fire-spitting tank of sorts, a poison gas, and several flying machines). When these items show up, the movie is a lot more fun to fans of fantastic cinema and the fact that the plot details are unknown doesn’t matter so much. It’s quite similar to THE CRIMSON PIRATE, even to the point of having a Nick Cravat-like sidekick (doesn’t talk, uses sign language) appear. It’s entertaining enough in a sword-and-sandal style, though it doesn’t really belong to that genre.

 

Le dirigeable fantastique (1906)

LE DIRIGEABLE FANTASTIQUE (1906)
aka Inventor Crazybrains and His Wonderful Airship
Article 2576 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-24-2008
Posting Date: 9-1-2008
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France

Inventor Crazybrains invents a wonderful airship. However, he has a bad dream that makes him rethink the value of his invention…

Poor Inventor Crazybrains! He certainly doesn’t deserve to be held down by flying fairy women while tumbling imps vandalize his laboratory. Still, he does get to see his airship in action, though he’s probably as confused as I am as to why flying fairy women keep appearing in it and flying off. Sure, he’s probably distraught about the fireball that destroys his creation, but I think the real reason he abandons his calling is those damned tumbling imps; it seems any hero of Georges Melies’s has to contend with them after a while. Well, at least the cranky guy in Saturn didn’t get on his case about this one. Another strange and amusing short from Melies.

 

Dr. Sex (1964)

DR. SEX (1964)
Article 2561 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-9-2008
Posting Date: 8-17-2008
Directed by Ted V. Mikels
Featuring Victor Izay, Julia Calda, Max Joseph
Country: USA

Three psychiatrists discuss their most interesting patients, all of whose stories involve naked woman. One turns into a poodle; one is addicted to mannequins, one is an exhibitionist, and one lives in a house haunted by naked women.

This is a nudie.

The primary purpose of a nudie is to show as many naked people as you can on the screen, preferably well-built women.

The primary problem in making a nudie is making sure you have as many naked women as possible while still avoiding the cinematic no-no of the time of showing full frontal nudity.

In nudies, plot, humor, social relevance, creative direction and passable acting are all of no consequence; as long as you get the naked bodies on the screen, you’ve served your purpose. Which is not to say you can’t try adding those things; it’s just that those who would be interested in seeing the movie could care less.

So, did this movie achieve its high artistic goals? Well, there’s lots of naked women in it, so I’ll leave that up to you.

By the way, co-writer Wayne Rogers would gain fame as Trapper John on the TV series “M*A*S*H”, and director and co-writer Ted V. Mikels would go on to give us THE CORPSE GRINDERS, ASTRO-ZOMBIES and BLOOD ORGY OF THE SHE-DEVILS.

Another one down. Time to move on.

 

Deranged (1974)

DERANGED (1974)
Article 2560 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-8-2008
Posting Date: 8-15-2008
Directed by Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby
Featuring Roberts Blossom, Cosette Lee, Leslie Carlson
Country: USA

On the passing of his mother, a man’s mental condition deteriorates. He digs up his dead mother and keeps her in his house, engages in grave-robbing and taxidermy to keep her from falling apart, and eventually turns to cannibalism and murdering women.

The Ed Gein story was one of the inspirations for, among others, PSYCHO, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS; there’s no doubt that it touches a horrific nerve somewhere. This one is rather modest; rather than using the story to horrify, it attempts to tell a more straightforward account of the Ed Gein murders. I don’t know how accurate the movie is in this respect, but there’s one thing I can say; thanks to some fine casting (especially Roberts Blossom as Ezra Cobb, the Ed Gein role) and a real sense of authenticity, the movie comes across as utterly convincing. Blossoms is really a wonder here; he manages to come across as sympathetic despite his derangement, and we can understand why those close to him didn’t know what he was doing and felt he was no more than a harmless eccentric. Even the conceit of having an onscreen narrator tell us the story on occasion doesn’t break the feeling that we’re seeing a re-creation of real life events. The movie even manages to show a sharp sense of humor on occasion. This movie is powerful, sad, and rather modest in telling its tale.

 

The Demon Lover (1977)

THE DEMON LOVER (1977)
Article 2558 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-6-2008
Posting Date: 8-13-2008
Directed by Donald G. Jackson and Jerry Younkins
Featuring Christmas Robbins, Val Mayerik, Gunnar Hansen
Country: USA

When his coven-in-the-making walks out on him, a dabbler in the black arts conjures up a demon to get revenge.

Some of the killings show a bit of creativity in this no-budget horror movie, and it’s obvious the filmmakers are having a bit of fun when the character names include Peckinpah, Frazetta, Ackerman, Ormsby and Romero. Given the extremely low budget, it’s no surprise the special effects are bad, so I won’t harp on that. However, it’s the atrocious script and the incredibly bad acting that really make this one memorably bad; I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many bad lines badly delivered in my life. In fact, it’s so bad that I found myself wondering if the movie was intentionally bad in the sense that, say, a Troma film is bad; that is, actually aspiring to badness for the humor value. That may be the case; director Donald G. Jackson would go on to make at least one film for Troma. Still, the movie did give me a chance to see what Gunnar Hansen looks like without the Leatherface mask, and, for the record, he’s one of the few actors who doesn’t embarrass himself in this one. But then, he’s about the only member of the cast who has acted in other movies.

 

Death: The Ultimate Mystery (1975)

DEATH: THE ULTIMATE MYSTERY (1975)
Article 2557 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-5-2008
Posting Date: 8-12-2008
Directed by Bob Emenegger and Allan Sandler
Featuring Cameron Mitchell, Gloria Prince, Don Felipe

After having had a near-death experience, a photojournalist embarks on a study of the ultimate mystery, death.

This documentary uses the concept of a reporter searching for the truth in its exploration of death. I don’t know if this is supposed to reflect a true situation (i.e. that it’s telling the story of a real reporter’s journey of research), but I can say this – the movie’s attempt to weave the reporter’s research into the subject is one of the biggest strikes against the movie’s credibility. For one thing, if there is a real reporter, why doesn’t he use his own voice rather than that of actor Cameron Mitchell? Also, we never see the reporter’s face; he’s always shot from behind or in the shadows, and at certain times it becomes apparent that the movie is going out of its way to keep his face hidden. Though I suspect this is to provide us with the sense of him being Everyman (and thus, putting us in his place to share his journey), it also gives us a sense that a lot of the movie was staged rather than happening spontaneously. There’s a certain amount of verisimilitude here; it’s obvious that most of the people you meet are non-actors (though the reporter’s female psychologist friend is the most glaring exception here).

As for the subject matter itself, there’s very little new here. Only two tidbits of information that presented itself interested me; one was that, according to one individual who studied the subject, death may not be an unpleasant experience as the shutting down of the body’s organisms may have a feeling somewhat akin to taking morphine, and the other was that one doctor reported that not all near-death experiences involve going joyously toward a light, but that some of them were, in fact, quite dark indeed; it’s just that the people who had these experiences don’t like to talk about them. Other than that, most of the movie is a dull, lifeless retread of stuff I’ve encountered before, especially the last half of the movie in which we have an extended session of hypnotic regression into previous lives followed by a follow-up fact research of the related experience; in short, it’s the whole Bridey Murphy thing regurgitated one more time. And the lifeless direction and editing make this documentary a real snooze.