The Glass Sphinx (1967)

THE GLASS SPHINX (1967)
aka La sfinge d’oro
Article 3281 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-15-2010
Posting Date: 8-8-2010
Directed by Luigi Scattini
Featuring Robert Taylor, Anita Ekberg, Gianna Serra
Country: Italy / Egypt / Spain
What it is: Tepid adventure story

A millionaire’s search for the tomb of a pharaoh who was rumored to have a secret elixir of life inspires violence and betrayal.

It’s plotted to maximize confusion, takes every opportunity to work in an action sequence (mostly fistfights shot with some of the shakiest camerawork I’ve seen), and scores it all with a repetitive soundtrack that makes every scene feel the same. It almost feels like one of those James Bond ripoffs from Italy that were so common at the time, only minus the charm. As far as the fantastic content, it never manifests itself to the extent that the movie ever leaves the realm of marginalia. Yes, there are two beautiful women in the cast, but, truth to tell, I’ve never been partial to women who have velcro implants in their eyelashes. All in all, an uninspired exercise in adventure.

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The Gore Gore Girls (1972)

THE GORE GORE GIRLS (1972)
Article 3280 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-13-2010
Posting Date: 8-7-2010
Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis
Featuring Frank Kress, Amy Farrell, Hedda Lubin
Country: USA
What it is: More Gore from Herschell

Someone is brutally killing and mutilating strippers. A newspaper hires a private detective to solve the murders.

This movie marked the end of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s directorial career for a good thirty years. By this time, he had achieved a certain level of competence in his filmmaking, and the acting shows some improvement over his earlier movies. He even managed to land a name star – Henny Youngman. As a result, this movie just looks and sounds better than some of his earlier movies. The gore is pretty extreme, but I wouldn’t really call it convincing. Considering the misogynistic nature of Lewis’s gore movies, I’m a little surprised that I don’t find his work near as offensive as that of certain other directors, maybe because I don’t really sense any nihilistic hatred underneath; I don’t sense that Lewis really takes any of this seriously, and I find after a while that I can’t either. If there’s any one thing I really noticed, it’s that Lewis was one pretty strange filmmaker; he clearly has a sense of humor (though it is wildly uneven), and there are numerous head-scratching touches (why are all the police investigations accompanied by a bad arrangement of the “Anvil Chorus?”). Yet, somehow, it managed to hold the attention even during the non-gory sequences.

The Grim Reaper (1980)

THE GRIM REAPER (1980)
aka Antropophagus
Article 3237 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-30-2010
Posting Date: 6-25-2010
Directed by Joe D’Amato
Featuring Tisa Farrow, Saverio Vallone, Serena Grandi
Country: Italy
What it is: Gory cannibal horror flick

Several tourists arrive on a Greek island to discover that the village is empty… and that someone is stalking all of them with the intent of making them meals… his meals, that is.

I’m assuming I watched the cut version of this movie; it’s mostly in English, though there appear a few scenes in foreign languages with subtitles, so I suspect it was put together from more than one source. I haven’t been particularly impressed with the D’Amato movies I’ve seen so far, but in this one, I grew to appreciate that he occasionally has the ability to set up a good surprise moment; there are times here where unexpected events happen at just the right moment, and though I wouldn’t call them ‘jump’ scenes per se, they do put you slightly on edge and are interesting to watch. It doesn’t always work; occasionally the set-ups are so blatant that the end result is more comic than scary, such as the scene with the bucket here. My biggest problem with the movie may be more with my print than the movie itself; so many of the night scenes are so dark that it’s impossible to make out what’s going on. If that was actually an intent on the part of the director, than he overused it. Overall, the movie worked passably well; though it didn’t exactly have me on the edge of my seat, it didn’t bore me either. I suspect the movie is mostly remembered for its two central gore set pieces, one involving a pregnant woman, and the final scene of the movie; I’d heard about the former scene beforehand, so I was prepared. As for the final scene, I found myself trying to decide if it was the stupidest gore set piece I’ve ever seen or one of the most grotesquely transcendent ones; at any rate, it does add a whole new level of meaning to a certain five-word catchphrase involving food.

The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966)

THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI (1966)
Article 3220 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-12-2010
Posting Date: 6-8-2010
Directed by Don Weis
Featuring Tommy Kirk, Deborah Walley, Aron Kincaid
Country: USA
What it is: Beach Party horror comedy

A deceased con man has a chance to go to heaven if he does a good deed, but his spirit is unable to leave his crypt. He recruits an old circus partner to help make sure that the heirs to his fortune are not bilked out of it by a crooked lawyer. Then beach partiers show up.

A cross between a Beach Party movie and a horror comedy isn’t really a bad idea, and, due to the presence of Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone and George Barrows in a gorilla suit, I found myself really hoping that this movie would pull itself together. Alas, this was the movie that killed the Beach Party series. The absence of both Frankie and Annette is noticeable, the antics of Harvey Lembeck have an air of desperation, and by the end of the movie it all degenerates into loud, frantic confusion. And you’d think that a Beach Party movie would have at least one scene at a beach, but not so. In a sense, it’s pretty sad; the series really didn’t need to go out with this sickening a thud.

Gamera vs Zigra (1971)

GAMERA VS ZIGRA (1971)
aka Gamera tai Shinkai kaiju Jigura
Article 3219 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-11-2010
Posting Date: 6-7-2010
Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
Featuring Koji Fujiyama, Daigo Inoue, Reiko Kasahara
Country: Japan
What it is: Giant Japanese monster mayhem

An invader from the planet Zigra threatens to destroy the Earth with earthquakes of unimaginable magnitude. The invader has also enslaved an Earth woman and sent her on a mission to kill two children. Will Gamera be able to save the children and the world?

Save for the concocted-from-previous-movies-hodgepodge of GAMERA – SUPER MONSTER, this is the last movie of the original Gamera series. As the series progressed, it directed itself to younger and younger audiences; here it seems positively infantile, what with its bratty children who seem to always know the correct thing to do and its condescending attitude (when told that Zigra comes from a planet 40 light years away, someone comments that “even if you went at the speed of light, it would take you 40 years to get here”). Plot errors and contradictions abound; for one, is the woman who was kidnapped an actress or a geologist? Older audiences will most likely prefer to ogle Eiko Yanami (if I have the correct name) as she parades around in alien garb, a bikini, or a miniskirt. Zigra isn’t near as much fun as Gaos or Guiron, and the plot is often slow and cumbersome. To its credit, at least it doesn’t pad itself out with footage from previous Gamera movies, but this is still the weakest of the series. Most memorable moment: Gamera plays Zigra like a xylophone.

Ground Zero (1973)

GROUND ZERO (1973)
aka The Golden Gate is Ground Zero
Article 3010 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-4-2009
Posting Date: 11-10-2009
Directed by James T. Flocker
Featuring Ron Casteel, Melvin Belli, Augie Tribach
Country: USA

A criminal plans to force the release of two of his cronies who are in prison by hiding an a-bomb in the Golden Gate bridge and threatening to blow it up unless the prisoners are released.

The director’s name was familiar enough that it had me taking a quick trip to IMDB to look up his filmography. Sure enough, I’d encountered him before; he was responsible for THE ALIEN ENCOUNTERS, a movie that managed to charm me a little despite its obvious weaknesses. This one is really not much better; the dialogue is atrocious, the acting matches the dialogue and the action sequences are some of the slowest ever committed to celluloid. Also, despite the fact the story lends itself to an edge-of-the-seat ticking-clock suspense feel, I never felt much tension during the run of the movie. Still, there’s a few touches I like; the story and the characters are on the offbeat side, some of the camerawork is rather interesting, and the score is actually pretty damn good for a movie this cheap. In fact, the movie managed to hold my interest during a long driving sequence merely because of the catchy music. The atomic bomb provides the science fiction content here, which in and of itself is pretty marginal, but the ending nudges it a bit closer. I don’t know what it is about Flocker, but I find his bad movies to be rather watchable in an Edward D. Wood Jr. kind of way.

Galaxy Express 999 (1979)

GALAXY EXPRESS 999 (1979)
aka Gingo tetsudo Three-Nine
Article 2992 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-17-209
Posting Date: 10-23-2009
Directed by Rintaro
Featuring the voices of Saffron Henderson, Kathleen Barr, Don Brown
Country: Japan

A young boy steals a train ticket to the interplanetary Galaxy Express in the hopes of going to the planet of Andromeda to get a machine body, and to seek revenge on the evil Count Mecha for the murder of his mother. In order to keep from being captured by the police, he teams up with a mysterious woman who may have an agenda of her own…

Though this is not my first encounter with anime for this series (I’ve seen a couple of early Japanese animation features that have been described as early examples of the form, and I’ve seen an anthology film from the early nineties called NEO-TOKYO that also qualifies), I can’t help but feel that this one constitutes my real initiation into the form. I’m glad for the experience; since one of my goals in this movie-watching project was to become more familiar with the whole realm of fantastic cinema, it’s always exciting to embark on a new exploratory journey of this sort. Of course, anytime this happens, it takes some getting used to the new form; my biggest problems with this movie were that I found the visual style jarring and occasionally unpleasant at times, and some of the English dubbing is bothersome; the voice of the main character made me feel like the actor was suffering from constipation during the whole dubbing process of the movie. However, I loved the rich complexity of the story, which, despite the abundance of spectacle, manages to hold on to the human story underneath it all. It has a nice touch for surreal iconic images, such as the flying trains and pirate ships, and some of them are truly fascinating; I love the scene on Pluto with the ice graveyard of people who have given up their bodies to become machines, and which is maintained by a woman who, when she took on her machine body, decided to have one without a face. In the final analysis, I found it all a satisfying epic fantasy, though one not without its flaws; we have at least one too many scenes where the hero is saved from death by a recently-made friend, and the long goodbye at the end is way too long. But these are minor annoyances, and I look forward to more adventures with the anime form.