Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)

Article 4321 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-29-2013
Directed by Robert Fuest
Featuring Vincent Price, Robert Quarry, Valli Kemp
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Campy horror sequel

After three years, Dr. Phibes arises from his tomb with a plan to bring his beloved wife back to life… and he won’t let anyone stand in his way.

The common view of this film is that it is the inferior sequel to THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES. Still, I have to count myself in that minority of people who like it better than the original. No doubt part of the reason is that I saw the sequel first, and after experiencing its campy floridness and over-the-top stylish excesses, I found the original to be somewhat on the dry side. Vincent Price gets a lot more dialogue in the sequel, and I love to hear him talk (though admittedly, much of what he says is redundant). The cops are, if anything, even more dimwitted here than they are in the original, and for me, the most nightmarish murder occurs in the sequel (the one with the scorpions). The sequel gives me more of a hint as to how the character would work in a continuing series of movies, and I would gladly gladly trade ten sequels to FRIDAY THE 13TH for a couple more Dr. Phibes movies. I won’t deny it has its fair share of flaws; in particular, I couldn’t help but notice this time that the script is more than a bit threadbare. Still, when I want to experience a Dr. Phibes movie, this is the one I’m likely to choose. My favorite joke is one that I didn’t catch until a third or fourth viewing; when one of the policemen suggests that they need a ram to open a door, notice where the other policemen looks.

The Day Time Ended (1979)

Article 4320 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-28-2013
Directed by John ‘Bud’ Cardos
Featuring Jim Davis, Christopher Mitchum, Dorothy Malone
Country: USA
What it is: Odd little science fiction movie

A family living in a home in the desert finds that their area is the center of activity caused by a distant triple supernova whose light has just reached the Earth, and they find themselves in the middle of a time-space vortex.

The last couple of low-budget movies I’ve seen did little more than rehash familiar stories and plots. This one is much more ambitious; in fact, despite the fact that it does seem to show a certain amount of influence from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, it really is trying to do something original. It’s not exactly successful; it’s maddeningly episodic at times, vague and confusing at others, and it ultimately doesn’t really satisfy, but the journey is often entertaining and sometimes intriguing. There’s a fair amount of stop-motion special effects here; there’s a tiny alien creature, a miniature spaceship, and two of the oddest looking dinosaurs that I’ve ever seen. If they had hitched a really strong story to this one, they might have really had something, but even as it is, it’s worth a viewing for the more interesting touches.

La dame de pique (1965)

aka The Queen of Spades
Article 4277 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-30-2013
Directed by Leonard Keigel
Featuring Dita Parlo, Michel Subor, Simone Bach
Country: France
What it is: Supernatural drama

A gambling countess comes by a secret three card combination that wins her a fortune, but she is allowed to use it only once and not gamble again. She passes on the info twice, and the recipients both die violently. She is warned that if she passes it on again, she too will die. Many years later, a young soldier discovers that the countess has the secret, and he resolves to get it out of her.

I recently had the opportunity to rewatch the 1949 British version of this movie, and I found it as entrancing the second time as I did the first time. I also have a copy of the original Pushkin story, but I haven’t read it yet. Perhaps I should; this movie version I just saw tells a much more elaborate version of the story, one in which the countess is just as much a major character as the soldier; in the earlier film, she was a secondary character, albeit a pivotal one. It also fleshes out certain details that were lost in the earlier version; for example, it features a scene that underscores the significance of the card of the queen of spades and why it plays into the climax of the movie. These extra touches dovetail with the events in the earlier movie and make it a more complex experience. I’m glad I saw this version.

Nevertheless, when I watch the story again, it will be the earlier one I will choose. Though this more recent version has some effective moments, it also lapses into static scenes of dialogue, and is often slow and dull. This is somewhat ironic in that this later movie is telling more of the whole story in less time; the earlier movie held my attention throughout, and this one does not. I’m looking forward to reading the original story now, though, as it will be interesting to see what was in the original and what enhancements the various movie versions have made to the story.

The Dragonfly and the Ant (1913)

aka The Grasshopper and the Ant, Strekoza i muravey
Article 4191 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-30-2013
Directed by Wladyslaw Starewicz
No cast
Country: Russia
What it is: Animated fable

A careless “dragonfly” parties while industrious ants work hard in preparation for the winter. What will happen when winter comes?

You probably know this tale better as “The Grasshopper and the Ant”, and that is, in fact, one of the alternate titles of this one. My copy has the translation as THE DRAGONFLY AND THE ANT, and you’ll notice that I put quotes around the word “dragonfly” in the above plot description. Why? Well, I know what a dragonfly looks like and I know what a grasshopper looks like, and believe me, that’s no dragonfly I see there.

I don’t remember whether I’ve touched upon any of Starewicz’s movies to date, but he was one of the early masters of stop-motion animation, and he had a tendency to use insects in his early work. His work really does seem quite confident and smooth in comparison to some of Willis O’Brien’s early work. The animation is full of fun and detailed little touches, such as having a stick fall off the wagon that the ant is pulling and having the grasshopper (let’s call it what it is) drinking lots of booze. I’m glad to start covering his work, and especially look forward to covering THE MASCOT at some time in the future.

The Diabolic Tenant (1909)

aka Le locataire diabolique
Article 4185 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-23-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Andre Melies, George Melies
Country: France
What it is: Elaborate trick short

A tenant rents an empty apartment, and decorates, furnishes and populates it with the contents of his small suitcase. However, he doesn’t have enough money to pay the rent, so…

This is one of Melies’s best and most entertaining of his later shorts… but it has one drawback, and it’s that it’s a retread of sorts. It’s basically a remake of SATAN IN PRISON from a couple of years earlier; it’s almost entirely the same premise, but with a slightly different storyline. Still, the premise itself was pretty sturdy to begin with, and I don’t think I enjoyed this one any less than I did its model; in fact, I think this one is a bit funnier. And the sheer volume of trickery almost requires that the whole thing move at a rapid clip.

Un drame au fond de la mer (1901)

aka Drama at the Bottom of the Sea
Article 4168 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-27-2013
Directed by Ferdinand Zecca
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: A drama at the bottom of the sea

Two deep sea-divers fight over a fortune in jewels.

IMDB classifies the movie as a fantasy, and it is included in the Walt Lee guide, hence its inclusion in my hunt list. It is, however, a false alarm. Basically, two deep sea divers descend into a scene where several dead people lie around. They find a treasure, fight over it, and one of them prevails. That’s about it, and unless the deep sea diver technology was too advanced for this period of time, there’s no fantastic content, though there are special effects. Still, I can understand how it got misclassified, with the possibility of submarines or mermaids popping into the story. Though I wouldn’t call the special effects strictly realistic (they don’t really look like they’re underwater, for one thing), they are pretty creative. No, there’s not really much of a story, but it’s only about one minute long, so what do you expect?

Dai-sanji sekia taisen: Yonju-ichi jikan no kyofu (1960)

aka The Final War
Article 4166 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-25-2013
Directed by Shigeaki Hidaka
Featuring Tatsuo Umemiya, Yoshiko Mita, Yayoi Furusato
Country: Japan
What it is: End of the world drama

When an American nuclear bomb is accidentally detonated over Korea, the resulting tensions between the US and the Communist countries escalates into a hot war, with Japan caught in the middle. The story is told from the point of view of a reporter, his girlfriend nurse and their friends and families.

I’m glad to have finally gotten a chance to see this elusive movie (which eventually ended up on my “ones that got away” list), though I’m not surprised that I could only find a copy with no English subtitles or dubbing. Sadly, this is one of those movies that heavily relies on dialogue to tell its story rather than visuals, and if I hadn’t had some handy plot descriptions, I would have been mostly lost, and would have had to rely on the visuals of the final ten minutes (where almost all of the special effects can be found), and a short sequence in which announcements are made in English. Even the plot descriptions are a bit contradictory, with some saying the bomb exploded over South Korea and others saying over North Korea. Still, most of the action is not shown, but announced to the various characters as they listen to the radio. The scenes of panicking people on the run are interesting, and part of the plot seems to hinge on those who are trampled and hurt during the panics. It seems well-directed and well-acted, and, given the subject matter, it’s no surprise that it’s a little depressing. Still, I must hold off on any serious evaluation of this one.