Empire of the Ants (1977)

EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977)
Article 2307 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-20-2007
Posting Date: 12-6-2007
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Featuring Joan Collins, Robert Lansing, John David Carson

Several people take a tour of swamp land in the Everglades in the hopes of investing their money, but they only uncover horror when they encounter giant ants.

1977 was a significant year in the history of movies; it was the year STAR WARS changed the whole meaning of movie blockbusters, and the movie industry was changed by it, though not necessarily for the better in the opinions of many people. Somehow, though, I find it comforting that the same year that one came out, this one, an old-fashioned “giant monsters on the loose” flick from none other than Bert I. Gordon, also came out. It’s been quite a while since I covered one of his movies, and seeing his name again (and again and again) in the opening credits made me look forward to the movie a little. Unfortunately, it’s pretty awful, and not near as much fun as his earlier movies. The opening narration was fun in a goofy way, but once we reach the swampland, we get hung up in extended scenes of character development that you know full well will have no impact on the plot. The monster attacks are also annoying; once the people get close enough to the ants that they have to switch to the giant models, the camerawork gets so jerky (probably to cover up how bad the models are) that they’re nearly unwatchable. Furthermore, the movie is screechy; between the screaming women and the screaming ants you’re liable to get a headache. I do kind of like the bizarre twists toward the end of the movie, which seems to come out of nowhere until it finally hooks up to some information brought forward (and emphasized) in the prologue. Still, the best thing about this movie to my mind may be something that only exists in my imagination. To me, the final freeze frame of the movie looks for all the world like a huge question mark, the type that you put after the phrase “THE END” (which, incidentally, does not appear) to indicate that the horror is going to continue. If the last bit was intentional, it was pretty clever. Still, I’m not sure it’s worth going through the whole movie just to see it.

 

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Eye of the Cat (1969)

EYE OF THE CAT (1969)
Article 2303 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-16-2007
Posting Date: 12-2-2007
Directed by David Lowell Rich
Featuring Michael Sarrazin, Gayle Hunnicutt, Eleanor Parker

A woman dying of emphysema has decided to will all her money to her cats unless her favorite nephew decides to move in with her. This prompts the woman’s hairdresser into contacting the nephew and setting up a plot to murder the aunt for her money. Unfortunately, the nephew suffers from a dread fear of cats…

The basic premise of this horror story is rather silly, but it’s far from unworkable, and in the right hands it could be effective enough. Unfortunately, the movie is only occasionally in the right hands. Its worst problem is that it’s largely setting itself up for the big ending, and once you have all the pieces in place for that, you still have a lot of time to fill, and the movie really doesn’t effectively fill it; the first hour of the movie is very slow, wanders off into tangents, and only occasionally holds the interest. The movie really kicks into high gear with an exciting scene in which a wheelchair shorts out, and from here the movie never lets up, though I do feel that the movie ends up giving away one of its main plot twists too early in the proceeding. The movie does a fine job of turning house cats into creatures of terror, and I also like the somewhat odd ending, though I could see how others might be disappointed by it. If the first hour of the movie was good, I’d recommend it; as it is, wise use of the fast forward button improves things immensely.

 

Escape from New York (1981)

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)
Article 2276 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-15-2007
Posting Date: 11-5-2007
Directed by John Carpenter
Featuring Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine

When the president is forced to use an escape pod when his plane has been hijacked by terrorists, he ends up landing in Manhattan, which has been converted into a massive prison due to the increase of crime. A bank robber is recruited by the police to go in, find the president, and bring him out.

Personally, I find the whole premise of the movie (that New York has been converted into a maximum security prison by 1988, seven years after the movie was made) to be utterly far-fetched, but the truth of the matter is that it hardly matters; the movie seems to be aspiring to a light-hearted goofiness that renders any sort of strict realism to be beside the point, and under such circumstances, I find the premise rather engaging. This is the second of John Carpenter’s movies that I’ve covered, and I like the way he tells his story; he keeps things smooth and efficient, but he avoids rushing and doesn’t attempt to overwhelm you with dazzle. He also gathered together a great cast, with Kurt Russell (as the memorably named Snake Plissken), Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine (who practically steals the movie as a chatty cabbie who somehow always manages to be there when you really need him), Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton and Adrienne Barbeau (whose costume almost steals the movie as well). I can’t bring myself to call it a great movie, but I do think it’s very good, and my biggest complaint is that I wish Kurt Russell would speak just a little bit louder; otherwise, his performance is fine. My favorite touches include one of the best running jokes in history (involving speculation on Snake Plissken’s current status vis-a-vis his existence in this world), and the great ending moment in which Donald Pleasence shares his cassette tape with the world.

 

Enter the Devil (1972)

ENTER THE DEVIL (1972)
Article 2069 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-13-2006
Posting Date: 4-12-2007
Directed by Frank Q. Dobbs
Featuring Joshua Bryant, Irene Kelly, David S. Cass Sr.

A marshal is sent to investigate the disappearance of a rockhound, and comes across a religious cult that is engaging in human sacrifice.

This is one quirky, oddball, laid-back horror outing. The characters are brimming with local color, the scenery of the Mojave desert is wonderful, and the cast of unknown actors puts the viewer in the position of never knowing what the fates of the various characters will be; at least one character dies long before I expected it. The movie’s main flaw is that it is too laid-back; there are long stretches here where the languid pace drags the interest level down, and it’s a little too far between the good moments. The quirky touches are definitely interesting; despite the deceptive title, the religious cult is not of a Satanic nature, but is rather a misguided Christian sect somewhat similar to the Penitentes. I was also somewhat surprised by the ending, mainly because the main rescuer turns out to be an unexpected character, but also because the heroes are a little too bloodthirsty as well. Still, if you think about it, it makes a sort of sense, but the movie does leave you with the feeling that good and evil aren’t as sharply delineated as you might expect. I consider this one worth a watch for the patient.

 

Ella Lola, a la Trilby (1898)

ELLA LOLA, A LA TRILBY (1898)
Article 2059 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-3-2006
Posting Date: 4-2-2007
Director Unknown
Featuring Ella Lola

Ella Lola performs a dance based on the character of Trilby. She twirls around and kicks her bare feet into the air. The movie ends.

This is officially now the earliest movie I’ve covered for this series. It is also a cheat – other than the fact that the character on which Ella Lola based her dance is from a story with certain horrific overtones, there is no fantastic content here. Which brings up an interesting point; do movies whose only fantastic content comes from association to a story that contains some qualify? I’d say not myself, but it’s easy to see why this movie got included in the list.

At least Melies would have turned her into a skeleton.

 

Experiment Alcatraz (1950)

EXPERIMENT ALCATRAZ (1950)
Article 1981 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-17-2006
Posting Date: 1-14-2007
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Featuring John Howard, Joan Dixon, Walter Kingsford

Some prison inmates volunteer to be subjects in a medical experiment in exchange for their freedom. When, during treatment, one of the inmates inexplicably kills another one, the authorities conclude that the violent act was the result of the treatment, and the experiments are abandoned. However, the doctor who developed the experiments is convinced that the fault was not in treatment, but that the killer had an ulterior motive for his action. He sets out to find the evidence.

Once again we have science fiction content whose main purpose is to serve as a side element in a crime story, though at least this time the science fiction element isn’t the prize in a struggle between good guys and bad guys. In fact, the story in this one is quite interesting; you do get caught up in trying to figure the motivation for the killing, and there is at least one doozy of a plot twist that I didn’t see coming, and which I thought was going to turn out to be a fake-out of sorts, but wasn’t. Had the presentation been as good as the story, this would have definitely been a keeper. Unfortunately, the way the story unfolds is sometimes needlessly convoluted; since there are no great plot revelations involved, I can’t think of a single good reason why the killing is reserved for a flashback sequence instead of presented in its proper linear fashion. The movie also seems as if it’s purposefully avoiding melodrama on occasion, which might be an attempt to give the movie a little noirish fatalism, but ends up only making the movie seem slower than it needs to be. The acting is quite good, though, and it features a nice little cameo from Frank Cady as an inmate whose collection of postcards provides a major clue in the proceedings. This one is not bad, but it could have been a lot better.

 

Eve (1968)

EVE (1968)
aka THE FACE OF EVE
Article 1960 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-27-2006
Posting Date: 12-24-2006
Directed by Robert Lynn and Jeremy Summers
Featuring Celeste Yarnall, Robert Walker Jr., Herbert Lom

When an adventurer encounters a wild jungle woman while searching for information on a missing business partner, he uncovers a plot to defraud a rich Colonel and learns about a missing Inca treasure.

When this movie first popped up on my list, I almost discarded it under the belief that it was just an alternate title for KING OF KONG ISLAND, another movie from roughly the same period about a wild jungle girl named Eve; one of the alternate titles of that one is EVE, THE SAVAGE VENUS. As it turns out, they’re two different movies, though neither one of them is particularly worth looking for. At least the other one, with its plot about a mad scientist using surgery to make slaves out of gorillas, has some marked fantastic content; this one has nothing, outside of the mild fantasy element of the wild jungle girl. At least one plot description I’ve encountered mentions the girl as possessing psychic powers, but I see none of that in the actual movie. It’s a dull affair, especially during the long middle section where the hero returns to civilization, and any interest it does generate is more due to the presence of several familiar faces (Herbert Lom, Chrisoopher Lee, Fred Clark) than anything that actually happens. At least it doesn’t take itself too seriously, though it does resort to stereotypes (in the form of Jose Maria Caffarel’s comic character) to do so. One fun thing to do in the movie is to keep track of how many characters die as a result of their own monumental stupidity; I count at least three.