Frankenstein Island (1981)

Article 4323 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-1-2013
Directed by Jerry Warren
Featuring Robert Clarke, Steve Brodie, Cameron Mitchell
Country: USA
What it is: Horror hodgepodge of gross ineptitude

Four balloonists find themselves stranded on an island that is being used for unholy experiments.

When I covered 2 + 5 MISSION HYDRA and A*P*E, I mentioned that both films were part of an unholy trio of movies that became notorious initiation standards in a bad movie watching group I ran called “The Exposed Film Society”. This was the third, and it marks the cinematic swan song of Jerry Warren, my own personal choice for the worst director of all time.

Most of Jerry Warren’s movies are what I would classify as snoozefests; they’re long-winded, incoherent, and devoid of interesting events. In the mid-sixties, he discovered the swinging sixties action sequence, and though he proved utterly inept at them, it did at least add a smidgen of interest factor to his work, which became laughingly bad rather than sleep-inducing, and I suppose this might be called an improvement. The movie that resulted at that time was THE WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN; a lawsuit followed, and it would prove to be Warren’s last film for many years.

I wonder how long the idea for FRANKENSTEIN ISLAND germinated; it has the air of having been cobbled together from fifteen years of story ideas. It’s a very loose remake of the director’s own TEENAGE ZOMBIES, and on top of having zombies (most of whom seem to resemble Elton John), it incorporates the Frankenstein legend, references to the Dracula story, a race of bikini-clab Amazon extraterrestrials, the extension of life, communications from the dead, arty psychedelic touches with Freudian undertones, black magic, Poe obsessions, disembodied brains, and strange pains induced by the mention of other places that is supposed to be similar to telepathy (or so the dialogue tells me). Throw in such touches as an annoying laughing man, a toy devil’s pitchfork that induces vampirism, a rotating pink ammo box and random appearances of the ghost of John Carradine talking about power and the golden thread, and you have a working definition of movie clutter. Trying to make a coherent whole of this mess would have taxed the best writers, directors and editors in the world; with Jerry Warren in all three capacities, the result is some of the most ambitious low-budget ineptitude to make it to the screen. Though the movie has several genre name actors, most of them seem lost and confused, and who can blame them; only Cameron Mitchell seems to maintain focus, and even his character (a captive sea captain mourning his lost Lenore) is so contrived that it’s a losing battle. It’s all topped off with an ending which recycles one of the worst cliches of all time, and the lab fight may be the single worst action sequence of all time.

Yes, I’ve seen it several times; in its own way, it’s something of a marvel. I just make sure not to try and figure it out; that would only give me a headache.

The Flesh and Blood Show (1972)

Article 4322 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-30-2013
Directed by Pete Walker
Featuring Ray Brooks, Jenny Hanley, Luan Peters
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Homicidal maniac on the loose

A troupe of actors are called together to put together an improvisational show at an old rarely-used theater on a pier. Then someone begins knocking off the actors one by one…

Before I started this series, I’d never even heard of Pete Walker. My first encounter with him was with the movie FRIGHTMARE, a movie so savagely horrific that I mentally marked him as a director to reckon with. This movie marks my fourth encounter with him, and I’m beginning to think that FRIGHTMARE was the exception rather than the rule. The title may be the best thing about it, as it seems to promise sex and mayhem in equal doses; as it is, there’s a lot more flesh than blood here, and more of people standing around talking than either one of them. The movie suffers from a bevy of uninteresting characters, a general lack of suspense, and a sense of obviousness; you’ll probably be connecting the dots a lot earlier than the movie does if you haven’t already been lulled into a state of apathy. This is the most disappointing movie of Walker’s that I’ve seen, but then again, it’s also the earliest one of his that I’ve seen; perhaps he needed to hone his craft a bit.

Flesh and Spirit (1922)

Article 4280 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-3-2013
Directed by Joseph Levering
Featuring Belle Bennett, Walter Ringham, Denton Vane
Country: USA
What it is: The reformation of an atheist

An atheistic scientist adopts a young orphan girl, but neglects his fiancee and refuses to allow her to teach the young girl about God.

One of the rules of writing that I occasionally encounter in books that try to teach you how to do such a thing is that you should give your characters names that have specific meanings to reflect the themes you want to express. Personally, I’ve always looked askance at this rule, as it seems to me that you run the risk of throwing subtlety to the wind if you do so. This movie provides one of those examples; its theme is pretty obvious to begin with, but to give the name of “Truth” to the devout and neglected fiancee is laying it on fairly thick, especially when the plot turns on the atheist seeing the ghost of his deceased fiancee for the first time. That being said, the movie is at least efficient and fairly well-made; it’s something of a cross between A CHRISTMAS CAROL and THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE, and the relationship between the atheist and the little girl is remarkably similar to the relationship between the little girl and her father in the latter movie. The ghost provides the fantastic content, and once you figure out the main conflict, the movie becomes quite predictable; perhaps the biggest surprise is that it allows the atheist to have some positive qualities at all, considering how it stacks the deck in other regards.

La fee printemps (1902)

    aka The Spring Fairy
    Article 4268 by Dave Sindelar
    Date: 7-18-2013
    Directed by Segundo de Chomon
    Cast unknown
    Country: France
    What it is: Fantasy trick film

    In the dead of winter, a couple offers food and shelter to a passing old woman. But perhaps this old woman is more than she seems…

    I really find it interesting to compare the works of Segundo de Chomon with those of Georges Melies. There are times where Chomon’s works seem to be little more than imitations of Melies’s movies, and there are times where he even outdoes Melies in terms of strangeness. There are also moments where he displays a lyrical quality that seems to lie outside of the Melies universe entirely, and this movie is one of those. I like little touches such as the fact when the fairy first appears, she is the only person in the scene to be hand-tinted, giving her a special quality. The scene where the winter landscape is transformed into a spring landscape, and where the fairy magically gathers flowers are handled with a grace that does not break the lyrical mood of the piece; Melies would most likely have taken the opportunity to show off more at the expense of the mood. Ultimately, this is a satisfying little trick film that also manages to tell a coherent little story as well.

Faust (1910)

FAUST (1910)
Article 4188 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-27-2013
Directed by Enrico Guazzoni
Featuring Ugo Bazzini, Alfredo Bracci, Giuseppe Gambardella
Country: Italy
What it is: Dealings with the devil

Faust sells his soul to the devil for youth and pleasure, and falls for the beautiful Marguerite.

I’m making some guesses on the credits above; the IMDB listing for this has a problem because it mixes up credits for three different productions of the story, and since this is the Italian version from Cines, I picked out the Italian names from the cast, and hope I got it right. It’s probably the most elaborate telling of the story I’ve encountered that predates Murnau’s take on the story. Beside that, I’d say the most striking facet of this version is the extreme theatricality of the acting, especially from the actor playing Mephistopheles; if this weren’t a silent movie, I’m sure all the actors would be shouting their lines at the top of their lungs to reach the rafters. Unfortunately, the theatricality becomes more annoying than fun, and given the fact that the production is somewhat flat, this tends to make it one of the less appealing versions of the story. I wonder what the other 1910 versions of the story were like.

Freitag, der 13 (1949)

FREITAG, DER 13 (1949)
aka Friday the 13th
Article 4174 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-7-2013
Directed by Erich Engels
Featuring Fritz Kampers, Angelika Hauff, Fita Benkhoff
Country: Germany
What it is: German “old dark castle” movie

A lord fears that rumors that his castle is haunted will keep him from selling it. He decides to have guests stay in a supposedly haunted room to prove that it isn’t haunted, but the guests disappear overnight…

Here’s another one I’ve managed to retrieve from my “ones that got away” list, and like many of the other foreign films on that list, I was only able to find a copy without English dubbing or subtitling. Fortunately, I was able to find at least a cursory plot description of the basic premise; unfortunately, exactly how the whole story plays out remains a bit of a mystery to me. I will say this much about it; it seems like a German variation on the “old dark house” motif, albeit one that doesn’t involve the reading of a will. Still, those familiar with the basic motif will guess early on the big secret of the room. There’s a few atmospheric scenes, and at least two sequences do manage to entertain despite the language barrier. One cleverly directed scene has a window being closed upon the audience, with the sound quality changing so that it feels we’re listening from the other side of a window. Another moment that comes through is a revelation about an inspector that appears in the middle of the movie; I was able to discern what the joke was concerning him despite the language barrier. Though I can’t give a meaningful review of the movie, my overall impression was that the movie was merely okay.

Flowers and Trees (1932)

Article 4137 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-23-2013
Directed by Burt Gillett
No voice cast
Country: USA
What it is: Disney Silly Symphony

Two young trees strike up a romance, but a jealous tree stump, angry at having been rejected, sets fire to the forest.

This is a Disney short from the era when they were the dominant force in cartoon shorts. This was the first three-strip Technicolor cartoon and it netted Disney the first of his 32 Oscars. It’s a charming piece of whimsy, with dancing anthropomorphic trees and flowers filling up the screen. The story is simple, but the story isn’t really the point; it’s the excellent and innovative animation that makes this one, as well as its fine use of music.