Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1974)
Article 2781 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-18-2008
Posting Date: 3-25-2009
Directed by Terence Fisher
Featuring Peter Cushing, Shane Briant, Madeline Smith
Country: UK

A young doctor is committed to an insane asylum for his experiments with corpses. There he encounters Baron Frankenstein, who enlists him as an assistant in his latest project; creating a new man from parts taken from the inmates.

This was Hammer’s final movie in the Frankenstein series, as well as Terence Fisher’s last movie. It’s generally considered one of the weakest of the series, but I quite liked it, at least partially because Peter Cushing is in top form; he makes full use of every bit of dialogue and is fascinating to watch. It is a bit disappointing in some ways; I thought it was a little lazy scriptwise to have him going back to the monster-creating business after the variety of tasks he undertook in the other sequels of the series, and the movie is sometimes unnecessarily lurid, especially at the disappointing climax. I also can’t help but give a little credit to David Prowse as the monster; despite the elaborate makeup and costume, he manages to use his body language to give a marked change to the monster after his brain transplant. The movie also successfully engenders our sympathy for him; when the two doctors and the mute female assistant celebrate the success of the operation, we are painfully aware that the monster (the fruit of their labors) is not to partake of the celebration. The story rehashes certain elements of other movies from the series, but Cushing keeps us interested. The movie has an odd ending, with Frankenstein still alive and looking with hope towards the future, whereas most of the other movies in the series at least gave the semblance of him being punished for his crimes, and it’s ironic that despite his looking forward into the future, this was the end of the line for the series.

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First Men in the Moon (1964)

FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1964)
Article 2780 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-17-2008
Posting Date: 3-24-2009
Directed by Nathan Juran
Featuring Edward Judd, Martha Hyer, Lionel Jeffries
Country: UK

At the end of the nineteenth century, a scientist creates a substance which can cut off the force of gravity. He decides to use the substance to hurtle himself in a sphere he has built to the moon.

I have distinct memories of seeing parts of this movie when I was a kid, with the sequence in which Dr. Cavor speaks to the head Selenite the one that remained most distinctly in my memory. For some reason, I never took the opportunity to see it again until now some forty years later, and I was really curious to see the movie as a whole and see how it stood up.

I was initially impressed to see Nigel Kneale’s name in the credits, but was wary when I saw that he shared the screenplay credit with another writer. After having watched the movie, I would love to know just how much of it was Kneale’s work, though I suspect that the scene with the Head Selenite above is his. I’m not happy with many aspects of this movie. I don’t mind the framing device of the modern-day moon landing leading us to the main part of the story as a flashback; I think it’s a clever touch. However, I’m really annoyed with the portrayal of Cavor during the first half of the movie; he belabors the dotty eccentricity to the point that I think I’m watching something like THOSE FANTASTIC FLYING FOOLS. Things settle down once they get to the moon. Ray Harryhausen’s animation here is mostly intent on giving a sense of life to some of the bizarre moon creatures; only the battle with the giant moon caterpillar comes across as a typical Harryhausen centerpiece. The story itself is a little unfocused, much of the action is too obvious, but I still love the scene with the head Selenite, and I suspect a much better movie is lurking around in here somewhere. All in all, I found this one a disappointment, though only a mild one.

The Face of Fu Manchu (1965)

THE FACE OF FU MANCHU (1965)
Article 2769 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-6-2008
Posting Date: 3-13-2009
Directed by Don Sharp
Featuring Christopher Lee, Nigel Green, Joachim Fuchsberger
Country: UK / West Germany

Nayland Smith, despite having witnessed Fu Manchu’s execution, begins to suspect that his arch-enemy is still alive when a series of murders begin happening in London. His fears turn out to be true when Fu Manchu kidnaps a scientist who has figured out how to concoct a terribly destructive poison.

I’ve been told that this is the best of the series of movies made during the late sixties that revived the Fu Manchu character, and I do have to agree; unlike some of the other movies in the series, it is coherent, it doesn’t feel like Christopher Lee is merely walking through the part, and certain sequences are very effective (the opening execution, for example). However, it’s not a great movie; it’s merely passable. Neither Nayland Smith nor Fu Manchu come across as formidable foes; in fact, at times their mistakes seem quite stupid, and they seem to fool and outwit each other quite easily. The script does feel pretty formulaic for these sorts of movies as well. It’s watchable enough, but for a movie that kicks off a franchise, it’s a pretty weak beginning.

The Flesh Eaters (1964)

THE FLESH EATERS (1964)
Article 2717 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-12-2008
Posting Date: 1-20-2009
Directed by Jack Curtis
Featuring Martin Kosleck, Byron Sanders, Barbara Wilkin
Country: USA

When a hurricane forces a small plane to land on an island, the pilot and his two passengers find themselves trapped there with a mysterious scientist. Furthermore, the water around the island is infested with flesh-eating microscopic creatures.

This gruesome, gory science fiction thriller languished in obscurity for many years, but has become much better known recently. It’s well worth checking out; despite some flaws, the movie is well-directed, strongly acted (especially from Martin Kosleck, who gives an excellent performance), has good special effects for its budget, and has a premise that is truly unsettling. One of its problems is that two of the characters (the alcoholic actress and the slang-spouting hipster) are nearly unbelievable, but credit must go to both Rita Morley and Ray Tudor for doing what they can to keep these characters from being actively annoying. I’m also a little disappointed with some of the developments late in the story when the flesh eaters are transformed into a much more conventional menace; this latter menace is nowhere near as effective and seems designed to allow the story to end in a much more conventional fashion for the era, whereas there’s something about this movie that makes me wish the ending was much more downbeat. It’s the sole directorial effort from Jack Curtis (and was partially financed by winnings from his wife’s appearance on a TV game show), and he’s effective enough here that it’s really a shame he didn’t go on to direct anything more.

 

Felix the Cat Switches Witches (1927)

FELIX THE CAT SWITCHES WITCHES (1927)
Article 2670 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-17-2008
Posting Date: 12-4-2008
Directed by Otto Messmer
No cast – Silent animated film
Country: USA

Felix takes some time off of his Halloween pranks to consult an owl fortune teller, who predicts romance and marriage in his future. Felix is understandably less than thrilled when his predicted love turns out to be a witch.

The “Felix the Cat” cartoons are some of the most entertaining from the silent era, largely because of Felix’s talent for bending reality to his own purposes. He only partakes of this ability a little here, when he plays pranks by switching the heads of a chicken and a dog, and when he replaces a horse’s back end with a bicycle wheel (a prank that backfires when the horse’s back end seeks revenge). The rest of the time he is the victim of pranks, but fortunately for Felix, it all ends happily. There’s a little dated humor here when Felix uses a pumpkin head to scare a black man. Actually, this one is pretty conventional for a Felix cartoon, but it’s entertaining nonetheless.

 

The Fantastic Animation Festival (1977)

THE FANTASTIC ANIMATION FESTIVAL (1977)
Article 2582 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-30-2008
Posting Date: 9-7-2008
Directed by Dean A. Barko and Christopher Padillo
Featuring the voices of Spike Milligan and Paul Frees
Country: USA

Fourteen award-winning animated shorts are presented.

Almost all of these animated shorts feature some fantastic content, ranging anywhere from the border fantasy element of the more abstract cartoons such as “French Windows” or “Cosmic Cartoon” to the more overt fantastic elements of “Nightbird” or “Moonshadow” (a cartoon inspired by both the Cat Stevens song of the same name and the artwork on the album that contains it, “Teaser and the Firecat”). Some of them seem to be parables or message films of a sort; an untitled clay animation piece involves a character who encounters laughter whenever he tries to evolve, and imitation when he succeeds, “Room and Board” involves a baby locked in a room trying to figure out a doorknob while quickly aging into adulthood and into old age, and the eye-popping “Mountain Music” has a definite ecological message. The more famous and familiar works are after the intermission; the ubiquitous “Bambi Meets Godzilla” is pretty hilarious the first couple of times but is now too common to have much impact; “The Mechanical Monsters” (the Dave Fleischer Superman cartoon from the forties) is the only traditional cartoon here, and, though entertaining enough, it is too anomalous in these surroundings. The high point here is at the very end; “Closed Mondays” is a famous clay animation short about a drunk who stumbles into an art gallery and finds the pieces coming to life; it’s still startling, memorable and fascinating even though I’ve seen it several times before. The surreal “Mirror People” gets quite horrific on occasion. All in all, this is an interesting animation compilation, though it does suffer a little from lack of focus.

 

Fear No Evil (1969)

FEAR NO EVIL (1969)
TV-Movie
Article 2568 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-16-2008
Posting Date: 8-24-2008
Directed by Paul Wendkos
Featuring Louis Jourdan, Carroll O’Connor, Bradford Dillman

A psychiatrist with an interest in the occult treats a young woman whose fiance died in an auto accident several days before they were slated to be married. The woman begins to see visions of her lover in an old mirror her fiance impulsively bought the day before his death, and she sees and feels her image making love to him. The psychiatrist decides to investigate.

This was part of a pair of TV-Movies which featured Louis Jourdan as an occult-investigating psychiatrist and his friend (played by Wilfred Hyde-White); the other movie was called RITUAL OF EVIL. Quite frankly, this would have made for a great TV series; the story is fascinating and takes some very interesting turns, the acting is strong, and it was quite ambitious; I suspect that the ending was inspired by the mystical trip through the monolith from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. You’ll figure out who the main human villain is if you use the “name actor in a seemingly minor role” rule. The biggest problem with the movie is that the dialogue is clumsy at times; it’s full of dialogue that looks better on paper than it sounds coming from the mouths of actual people. Nevertheless, this is a unique and and interesting TV movie that works well as both horror and mystery.