Fantomas (1964)

FANTOMAS (1964)
Article 3469 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-7-2011
Posting Date: 2-12-2011
Directed by Andre Hunebelle
Featuring Jean Marais, Louis de Funes, Mylene Demongeot
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Supervillain pastiche

A supervillain known as Fantomas tries to foil a couple of foes: the police inspector who is trying to catch him and the reporter who doesn’t believe in his existence.

With one exception (the second episode of the Louis Feuillade serial), my every attempt to see a movie about Fantomas has been marred by the fact that I was unable to get hold of a print in English (either dubbed or subtitled), so you can imagine my happiness when I started seeing the English subtitles on this one. Still, my joy was quickly muted by my realization that the light humorous touches were turning out to be very heavy indeed, and it finally dawned on me that instead of a clever crime thriller, I was being treated instead to an action comedy. Fantomas is nowhere near as brilliant this time around as he was in previous versions, but then, he doesn’t need to be; the character of Inspector Juve has been reduced to that of a bungling blowhard, which is useful for the sake of the comedy but disappointing for someone hoping for more clever thrills. Somehow, I suppose it’s fitting that the movie’s last quarter is largely an extended chase sequence using various vehicles (cars, motorcycles, trains, helicopters, even a submarine). It has occasional good laughs in it, but I’d be lying if I said I was happy with the shift of tone from earlier Fantomas movies. Jean Marais plays both the reporter and Fantomas, who is never seen as he looks and is always in disguise; of course, he disguises as the reporter at one point. The movie spawned two sequels, though given the ending here, that’s no surprise; it was obviously intended to be a franchise. The fantastic content is a little bit higher, however, than in other versions of the story; Fantomas is also a scientific genius, as he uses artificial skin to help him create his convincing masks, and his default disguise makes him look something like a space alien.

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Free For All (1949)

FREE FOR ALL (1949)
Article 3353 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-4-2010
Posting Date: 10-19-2010
Directed by Charles Barton
Featuring Robert Cummings, Ann Blyth, Percy Kilbride
Country: USA
What it is: Inventor comedy

An inventor concocts a pill that can turn water into gasoline.

This one fell off of my hunt list some time ago, but someone pointed me in the direction of a copy, so I’m glad to finally review it. Yet, now having seen it, I really don’t have a lot to say about it. It’s a middling-to-fair comedy about an man who invents a pill that converts water into gasoline, and his run-in with an oil company who fears it will put them out of business and try to get the formula for themselves. It has some satirical possibilities, but the movie doesn’t really explore them, settling instead for hackneyed situations and forced contrivances. Still, it’s fun to see Percy Kilbride in something other than his Ma and Pa Kettle comedies, and the cast also features Percy Helton and Ray Collins.

Funeral Home (1980)

FUNERAL HOME (1980)
aka Cries in the Night
Article 3351 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-2-2010
Posting Date: 10-17-2010
Directed by William Fruet
Featuring Kay Hawtrey, Lesleh Donaldson, Barry Morse
Country: Canada
What it is: Secret in the cellar story

A young woman helps her grandmother run a bed and breakfast which used to be a funeral home before her grandfather disappeared. However, more people start disappearing… and who is that person grandmother is secretly talking to in the cellar?

Well, despite the era it was made, it’s not a slasher movie; it’s more of a “house with a sinister secret” type of movie, and there isn’t an emphasis on gore. The movie’s not bad, but it’s no better than adequate. The movie builds its story around a twist that has been used before by a much better and more famous movie, and I’ll give the movie some credit for only borrowing the twist and not the whole structure of its inspiration. However, it fails to come up with a really strong story, either; it merely sets things up for the final twist, and you should be able to figure out what it’s going to be before we get there. The movie is slightly padded to get it up to running length, so certain scenes seem pointless; the sequence near the beginning where the young woman has an encounter with a black cat seems to imply that superstition will play into the story, but nothing comes of it. It’s watchable, but uninspired.

Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)

FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY (1973)
TV-Movie
Article 3350 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-1-2010
Posting Date: 10-16-2010
Directed by Jack Smight
Featuring James Mason, Leonard Whiting, David McCallum
Country: USA
What it is: Another take on the Frankenstein story

Dr. Frankenstein, distraught at the death of his brother, combines forces with Dr. Clerval to create life.

I wonder what they mean by “The True Story”; since the Frankenstein story is a piece of fiction, it seems rather silly to call any version the “True Story”. I assumed that it meant they were going to try to tell a faithful version of the original novel, but the story here is no more faithful to Shelley’s work than most of the other versions I’ve seen. So let’s just take it as another variation on the story and go from there.

Taken as such, it’s not a bad attempt at the story; it has some interesting characters and performances and finds some novel variations on the concepts. Most of the performances are quite good, though I’m particularly partial to James Mason and David McCallum here; the latter may be giving the best performance I’ve ever seen from him. Still, there’s some moments here that fall flat; for example, I find Elizabeth’s cowering in fear from the “evil” butterfly to be singularly silly. I also find the portrayal of the monster rather inconsistent, sometimes seeming to be fairly coherent and at other times mouthing the same three words over and over – beautiful, Victor and Figaro. I also find the character of Elizabeth unbelievable, especially when she takes on the role of Victor’s conscience. It’s fairly bloody for a TV-Movie, and the scene where Clerval pours acid on a crawling arm is fairly shocking. At three hours, it’s a fairly daunting watch, but I think it was originally shown over a two-night period. And I do think that overall the movie does an interesting job of putting together pieces from the various versions of the story in a new way.

Flesh Gordon (1974)

FLESH GORDON (1974)
Article 3217 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-9-2010
Posting Date: 6-5-2010
Directed by Michael Benvenite and Howard Ziehm
Featuring Jason Williams, Suzanne Fields and Joseph Hudgins
Country: USA
What it is: Science fiction serial porno parody

Flesh Gordon, Dale Ardor and Dr. Flexi Jerkoff fly to the planet Porno to defeat the evil Emperor Wang.

The movie opens with a crawl in which the filmmakers acknowledge the great influence the serials and superheroes of the thirties had on this movie. This is a pretty odd touch for a porno parody, but it’s a telling moment. If this movie works, it’s because it actually seems that the makers of this movie had seen, enjoyed, and been influenced by their target; the plot of the movie does parallel the plot of the Universal serial. On top of that, a few other movies appear to have had an influence as well; there are moments here that will conjure up memories of THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD and KING KONG. It even throws in a cliffhanger, stops the movie for an intermission, and resolves it in part two with the classic “bail-out” solution that was all too common in the form. Even the design of the robots harkens back to THE UNDERSEA KINGDOM and THE PHANTOM EMPIRE. Throw in some fine stop-motion animation from Jim Danforth and a cameo by John Hoyt and you have that rarity of rarities; a porno parody that is genuinely amusing. Only in the seventies could something like this come out.

Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)

FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (1973)
aka Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein
Article 3204 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-27-2010
Posting Date: 5-23-2010
Directed by Paul Morrissey and Antonio Margheriti
Featuring Joe Dallesandro, Monique van Vooren, Udo Kier
Country: USA/Italy/France
What it is: Over-the-top horror and sex black comedy

Baron Frankenstein is in the process of creating a man and a woman in his lab in the hopes that they will mate and produce a race of perfect Serbians. His wife/sister has the hots for the oversexed stable boy and brings him into the house as a “personal servant”. Their two children sneak around the house and observe everything.

Though IMDB doesn’t classify it as a comedy, I think that’s the only way to interpret this ultra-gory sexed-up version of the Frankenstein story. We have a Baron Frankenstein whose extreme sexual repression has manifested itself in some truly outrageous ways, which are unfortunately picked up by his impressionable but stupid assistant. We have the oversexed wife/sister who is only disgusted with sex when someone else is getting it, and the stud of a manservant who actually seems a little bored with it all and has other things on his mind. You have a case of mistaken identity; the doctor is searching for the head of a man for his monster who is sex-obsessed and ends up with the head of man who aspires to be a monk. If you think about it, this is all pretty amusing, and the over-the-top gore is just part of the joke. It was originally shown in 3D, and even watching it flat you can see how it made some interesting (if occasionally disgusting) uses of the gimmick. I remember that I first saw this one on the USA network (NOT a pay channel); I’d actually like to see it again having seen the unedited widescreen version, if for no other reason than to marvel at the ingenuity they must have used to edit this into anything that could have actually been shown on the channel. Andy Warhol was one of several producers, but you can ignore the Antonio Margheriti credit; he was credited for quota reasons in Italy, but had nothing to do with the movie.

Figures de cire (1914)

FIGURES DE CIRE (1914)
aka The Man of the Wax Figures
Article 3162 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-9-2010
Posting Date: 4-11-2010
Directed by Maurice Tourneur
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Early psychological horror

A man accepts a bet to spend the night alone in a wax museum. Can his nerves stand the strain?

My copy of this short silent movie has title cards in French, but the plot isn’t really that difficult to scope out; I was able to figure out the basic plot before I hunted up some plot descriptions, and they match. I won’t give away too much on this one because I honestly wasn’t sure which direction this was going to go, and I think the movie is best off that way. Let’s just say that it manages to work its way up to a nice shock ending. This movie was considered lost for many years, but was rediscovered in 2007, and the print shows quite a bit of damage at one point. Nevertheless, this is an effective and fun early horror movie.