The Hobbit (1977)

Article 3926 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-4-2012
Posting Date: 5-14-2012
Directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr.
Featuring the voices of Orson Bean, Richard Boone, Hans Conried
Country: USA
What it is: Children’s epic fantasy

A hobbit is recruited as a burglar for a band of dwarfs intent on recovering a treasure from a dragon.

Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” is in something of an odd place; it’s the prelude to one of the greatest epic fantasies of all time, “The Lord of the Rings”, but since “Rings” is a fairly adult fantasy while “The Hobbit” is intended for juveniles, there’s an odd difference in style between the works. And since “The Hobbit” was intended for children, one of the hazards of its being adapted is for it to be made cuter and more cuddly than it is. At least this adaptation of the book avoids that; it maintains its epic fantasy feel rather well. The use of music is uneven and a little too persistent, but at least most of the lyrics come directly from the book, and the music never gets too pretty. The movie also keeps fairly faithful to the book; the only major episode missing is the encounter with Beorn, but given that very little actually happens during that part of the novel, it was no doubt the first thing to get the axe when trying to condense the story to 77 minutes. But, because of the shortness, the story sometimes feels a bit rushed, especially during the first half. All in all, I found this a good, if not great, adaptation of the Tolkien novel.

The Hunters of the Golden Cobra (1982)

aka I cacciatori del cobra d’oro
Article 3918 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-26-2012
Posting Date: 5-6-2012
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Featuring David Warbeck, Almanta Suska, Luciano Pigozzi
Country: Italy
What it is: Exotic actioner

An American soldier is recruited to recover the Golden Cobra, an artifact that gives its possessor supernatural powers.

In case you haven’t figured it out from the title, this is one of several Italian imitations of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, which, in this case, translates as a standard period action/adventure movie shot in an exotic location involving the recovery of supernatural artifacts. Given the low-budget pedigree of this one, I didn’t expect the stunt work or special effects to match that of its model, and I kept my expectations pretty low, and I was right. For what it was, it was passable; the violence is a bit nastier than that of RAIDERS, and the script seems like it was thrown together without much care, but I rather like the British soldier who is paired with the hero. Still, this one is routine at best.

A House in Nightmare Park (1977)

Article 3917 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-25-2012
Posting Date: 5-5-2012
Directed by Peter Sykes
Featuring Frankie Howerd, Ray Milland, Hugh Berden
Country: UK
What it is: An old dark house movie

A ham actor is invited to entertain at a spooky mansion, but he’s unaware that he is actually the true heir to the estate and that the other members of the family want him out of the way…

This horror comedy is a vehicle for British comedian Frankie Howerd. I do like that the movie generally tries to use verbal wit instead of broad slapstick, that it tries to have some horror atmosphere, and that the comedian is one of those I don’t find actively annoying. However, the story is hardly original and the comedy is only fair to middling; there’s a few smiles, but not much in the way of outright laughs. Ray Milland gives his usual solid performance, and that adds a bit to the proceedings, but really, there’s not an awful lot here.

Hollywood Ghost Stories (1986)

Article 3881 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-21-2012
Posting Date: 3-30-2012
Directed by James Forsher
Featuring John Carradine, William Peter Blatty, Arthur Conan Doyle
Country: USA
What it is: Paranormal documentary

John Carradine takes us on a journey of real-life hauntings that have something to do with the movie industry.

In terms of its exploration of the paranormal, this movie isn’t really much different from most of the others out there; I doubt it will change anybody’s mind about anything. However, for fans of fantastic cinema, this may be one of the more interesting ones out there, if for no other reason that the events discussed all have some connection with movies, TV and/or Hollywood, and the movie uses a lot of movie footage to pad things out. Still, even if you enjoy the footage, you’ll realize that padding is just what it is; much of it seems to be there to distract you from realizing that the movie is pretty threadbare. You’ll see clips from THE EXORCIST, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, and THE ENTITY, plus any number of short clips from other films. There’s very little here I haven’t encountered before.

The Herncrake Witch (1912)

aka The Hencrake Witch
Article 3866 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-6-2012
Posting Date: 3-15-2012
Directed by Mark Melford
Featuring Jackeydawra Melford, Mark Melford
Country: UK
What it is: Fantasy comedy

When the daughter of a local witch is ostracized by the other students at a girl school, the witch plots a revenge against them. She also helps her daughter’s lover to overcome his father’s resistance to their romance.

This title had ended up on my “ones that got away” list with a LOST classification, but a print (with only a few seconds missing at the beginning and the end) has apparently turned up, been restored, and posted on the web, thus giving me a chance to see it. It looked relatively realistic for a movie about a witch in its time, so I was wondering if it would be a movie about the witch hunts, but the minute the daughter shows up in a black pointed hat, I knew that it wasn’t to be taken too seriously. In the movie, the witch really only has one trick up its sleeve, but it’s a good one, especially when she casts it on a misogynistic father. It’s a fun and amusing little short that I’m glad survived. Incidentally, I was quite surprised to discover that the character of Jackeydawra (the witch’s daughter) was actually played by an actress name Jackeydawra.

Her Majesty’s Top Gun (1977)

aka No. 1 of the Secret Service
Article 3829 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-28-2012
Posting Date: 2-7-2012
Directed by Lindsay Shonteff
Featuring Nicky Henson, Richard Todd, Aime MacDonald
Country: UK
What it is: Low-budget Bond parody

Secret Agent Charles Bind is sent out on a mission to investigate the murders of noted financiers.

This movie was apparently meant to be a parody of the James Bond movies; unfortunately, on that level, the movie is a failure. Not only are the intended laughs ineffective, there’s far too much wasted time between them. The closest I came to being amused was during a sequence where an assassin in training honed his skills by shaving off the whiskers of his brother with his gun. Other than that, it tries for laughs with a lame running gag involving his female assistant and a soda syphon, horrible post-killing one-liners, and action sequences both more exaggerated and more undernourished than those in the real James Bond movies. However, if the comedy falls flat, there is at least one compensation. I actually found the villain in this one rather intriguing; his plan is offbeat, and he’s so cocky he practically drags the secret agent along with him on the assassinations just to show him how useless it is for the agent to stop him. Still, the movie overuses him; his character would have been more fun if he hadn’t been in every other scene, and both the script and the budget are too undernourished to make it all work. There’s some fun faces in the cast (such as Milton Reid and Jon Pertwee), though they aren’t really given enough to do. Also, in terms of its fantastic content, this one is very light on the gadgetry; other than the fact that the secret agent has a huge machine gun installed in his car, I don’t think there’s any at all. Therefore, I don’t really think this qualifies as a genre effort.

The House on Skull Mountain (1974)

Article 3783 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-11-2011
Posting Date: 12-23-2011
Directed by Ron Honthaner
Featuring Victor French, Janee Michelle, Jean Durand
Country: USA
What it is: Blaxploitation ‘old dark house’ movie with voodoo

Right before her death, a family matriarch sends for four great-grandchildren who don’t realize they are part of the family. They arrive in time for the woman’s funeral and await the reading of the will. Then they begin to die…

We’ve had blaxploitation vampires, Frankenstein monsters, and Mr. Hydes; why not an “old dark house” movie as well? Then throw some voodoo into the mix. Sadly, the script seems as if it was doing the bare minimum to bring the premise to life, and there are times when this movie seems to be an exercise in stretching out the undernourished script to feature length; there’s an endless driving sequence, one of those “romantic montages”, and a long voodoo ceremony to fill up running time. The first half is the weakest, because we also have to deal with an annoying and insensitive jive-talker who is fortunately the first to go; afterwards, the movie improves a little, though it doesn’t rise above the ordinary. There is, however, at least one striking visual that makes for the best moment in the movie; there’s a scene with a woman looking into a mirror that becomes juxtaposed with a skull that shows some momentary cinematic cleverness, and it almost makes the movie worth catching.