In Search of Noah’s Ark (1976)

IN SEARCH OF NOAH’S ARK (1976)
Article 3003 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-28-2009
Posting Date: 11-3-2009
Directed by James L. Conway
Featuring Vern Adix, Brad Crandall, Lee Sollenberger
Country: USA

Does evidence exist of Noah’s Ark on top of Mount Ararat? This movie sets out to examine the proof…

I always feel like I’m walking on thin ice with movies whose fantastic content ties them with Biblical themes; the very fact that I’m covering them in the context of a comprehensive view of the fantastic genres (science fiction, fantasy or horror) makes me run the risk of appearing that I’m scoffing at things that many people embrace as unassailable truth. My response is twofold; firstly, any movie that deals with events that could be described as magical (in this case, consider Noah’s ability to control all of those animals) places it within the bounds of fantasy, whether or not the event is true or believed true, and secondly, I won’t cover a movie unless some other source has already classified it as belonging to the fantastic genres. With this out of the way, let me go on to the movie itself.

In some ways, movies like this are a bit useless; if you’re a devout believer, you don’t need proof, and if you’re skeptical, you’ll probably never find sufficient proof for your purposes, especially if you question the intents of the filmmakers themselves. I suspect you’ll most be impressed if you see it as a child. I’ll give it credit for addressing many of the thorny questions that can usually be asked about the possibility of such an event actually occurring. Nevertheless, the movie is only mildly interesting at best, and rather repetitive at its worst; there’s just so much you can do with footage of people climbing mountains. At any rate, I suspect most people know in advance whether this movie would have any interest for them without having to read my review.

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The Ice House (1969)

THE ICE HOUSE (1969)
aka Love in Cold Blood
Article 3002 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-27-2009
Posting Date: 11-2-2009
Directed by Stuart E. McGowan
Featuring David Story, Robert Story, Jim Davis
Country: USA

An ice house worker is humiliated by a buxom blonde who hits him over the head with a beer bottle. This gives him a trauma so that he strangles any woman who raises a drink to him. Pretty soon, his twin brother, a cop, is on a case to track down disappearing women.

At first I thought this sleazy, cheap little movie was doing an amazing job in twin brother special effects, but a quick check of the credits cleared that up; instead of one actor playing two roles, we have actual twins in the leads. It’s a neat trick getting real twins to play twins a movie. It’s an even better trick if both the twins can act, but you can’t have everything. This movie is incredibly sleazy; the local dance place features lots of nude dancing to the non-hit “The Scrub”, there’s a gratuitous orgy sequence, and assorted other nude scenes. It’s also incredibly silly; from the traumatic experience that sets off the murders, the twin cop subplot, and a variety of other silly scenes (especially a freak accident where a corpse appears in an ice dispenser), the movie becomes unintentionally comic a lot of the time. But then it may not be unintentional; director Stuart McGowan went on to direct a couple of Tim Conway films. The most surprising thing about this movie is that there’s a touch of naivete in place of the mean-spiritedness I usually find in movies of this ilk; the killer is basically a big lug who can’t control what he does rather than the repellent misogynist that I’d expect from a movie like this, and it doesn’t drench itself in sadism. In short, this one is definitely bad, but far from unwatchable.

It! (1965)

IT! (1965)
Article 2995 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-20-2009
Posting Date: 10-26-2009
Directed by Herbert J. Leder
Featuring Roddy McDowall, Jill Haworth, Paul Maxwell
Country: UK / USA

When a museum’s warehouse burns down, the only surviving piece is an ominous-looking statue. When people begin dying mysteriously in its proximity, the assistant to the curator begins to suspect that the statue is the Golem of legend. Now, if he can only find the scroll that will bring it to life…

An update of the legend of the Golem isn’t a bad idea. Crossing it with PSYCHO (the assistant keeps his dead mother in his house) is merely bizarre, even if Roddy McDowell does make for an effective ersatz Anthony Perkins. Giving the assistant psychic powers with which to communicate with the Golem is piling it on a bit thick. Having the assistant hallucinate that his dead, mummified mother is the naked body of the woman he loves is just plain silly. And having the military and the police decide that the best way to defeat the Golem is to use the atomic bomb on it takes the movie to levels of absurdity that boggle the mind. In case you’re missing the point, I can only summarize by telling you that the script of this movie is an overblown, silly mess, which doesn’t mean that it’s not fun in its own way. And at least McDowell keeps the entertainment level running pretty high. And there’s one thing I have to admit – that Golem statue is pretty creepy.

Infra-Man (1975)

INFRA-MAN (1975)
aka Zhong guo chao ren
Article 2993 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-18-2009
Posting Date: 10-24-2009
Directed by Shan Hua
Featuring Danny Lee, Terry Liu, Hsieh Wang
Country: Hong Kong

In order to battle an attack by subterranean monsters led by the evil Princess Dragon Mom, a Professor transforms his assistant into the indestructible super-hero Infra-Man.

In this movie, the Shaw Brothers take the basic Japanese superhero premise (Starman, Ultraman, etc), combine it with their own martial arts movies, inject it with the manic energy of a busload of kids all hyped up on sugar and caffeine, and the result is one of the most insane guilty cinematic pleasures of all time which is only enhanced by the ridiculous dialogue and bad dubbing. Here are my ten favorite moments of insanity from this epic.

1) A man informing a committee that “the situation at this time is so serious, it’s the worst in human history”.

2) Infra-Man, having just been created, makes his first appearance and we see onlookers pointing to him and saying, “Look! Infra-Man!”

3) Infra-Man does battle with a monster bug, who suddenly turns into a giant. After a few minutes of avoiding the bug’s attacks, Infra-Man then turns into a giant himself. This scene has all the logic of children playing a pretend game and making up the rules as they go along.

4) The first appearance of Princess Dragon Mom’s minion monsters, who flail their various appendages incessantly and chatter endlessly about how they look forward to destroying things.

5) The professor telling his daughter about the most wonderful moment in his life; her birth. According to the Professor, this event happened with “no warning at all”. Either he wasn’t paying very close attention, or he’s not as smart as he seems.

6) To enhance Infra-Man’s powers, the professor gives him “thunderball fists”, the device that is supposed to finally make Infra-Man all-powerful. For the rest of the movie, Infra-Man dispatches with the monster mostly by using, not his thunderball fists, but by his jet-pack feet.

7). The power goes out while Infra-Man is being created. The professor tells one of his helpers that if he doesn’t fix the power in one minute, Infra-Man will die. On the way to fix the power, the helper is assaulted by a giant tentacle, which dangles him up in the air. Fortunately, a team of other helpers emerge just in time with a circular saw, which cuts off the tentacle, allowing the helper to reach the lever which fixes the power.

8) Despite all of his powers, Infra-Man spends most of the movie battling his foes with kung fu. And he always does a triple backflip before attacking.

9) Princess Dragon Mom threatens to drop the Professor’s daughter into a lava pit if he doesn’t create an Infra-Man for her. He refuses. She responds by… freezing them both in a block of ice until they reconsider. Talk about idle threats.

10) Infra-Man himself is dropped into the lava pit, and it looks like the end of him… until he remembers he can fly.

There are others, but these give good hints of the absurd charm of what may be my favorite super-hero movie of them all. I wish there was a sequel, and though IMDB does list one, the movie they list is THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN, which seems to have little relation to this one.

I Dismember Mama (1974)

I DISMEMBER MAMA (1974)
aka Poor Albert and Little Annie
Article 2991 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-16-2009
Posting Date: 10-22-2009
Directed by Paul Leder
Featuring Zooey Hall, Geri Reischl, Joanne Moore Jordan
Country: USA

A young man is kept in an institution after attempting to kill his mother. After he attacks a nurse, he is marked to go into an institution with higher security, but he escapes, intent on finding his mother and killing her.

I found Paul Leder’s MY FRIENDS NEED KILLING better than expected, but then, I was expecting the worst. If there’s any one thing that strikes me that this movie shares with that one, it’s that he liked to make psycho-killer movies that were a little bit off the beaten path. That doesn’t mean they work, and this movie features one of the most ill-advised sequences in cinema history; after having established the killer as an arrogant, hateful psychotic who terrorizes, humiliates and finally murders his mother’s servant, the movie then has the psycho fall in love with the servant’s nine-year old daughter, a circumstance which eventually leads to one of those romantic montages of the psycho and the little girl having fun around the town while a song plays on the soundtrack. This looks for all the world like an honest-to-God attempt to garner sympathy and affection for the psycho; I found this sequence utterly reprehensible, and if there’s any part of the movie where I would have been tempted to use the “Up Chuck Cups” that were handed out to ticket-buyers, this is it. It’s very cheaply made, though the musical score (which is often totally inappropriate) does its damnedest to cover up the fact that the direction is dull and lifeless. Even gorehounds will be disappointed at the small amount of blood in this one. In the end, it’s not horrifying or scary; just unpleasant and unaffecting.

The Invisible Monster (1950)

THE INVISIBLE MONSTER (1950)
Serial
Article 2923 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-9-2009
Posting Date: 8-14-2009
Directed by Fred C. Brannon
Featuring Richard Webb, Aline Towne, Lane Bradford
Country: USA

A criminal mastermind who can turn invisible is attempting to form an invisible army. However, he has to contend with an insurance investigator who is on his trail.

Back when I covered the feature version of this serial (SLAVES OF THE INVISIBLE MONSTER), I had a grand old time poking fun at the severe limitations of the criminal’s power of invisibility; he could only turn invisible while wearing an outfit soaked in a special solution while a bright light was shining on him. Of course, these limitations exist to keep him from using invisibility all the time, which would have driven up the special effects budget for a serial that couldn’t afford it. The invisibility gimmick is really the most interesting thing about it; the rest of the serial is a tired regurgitation of all the usual cliffhangers we’ve seen hundreds of times already (just how many times can you bail out of a car?). At least the fantastic content is much stronger than it usually is for a serial of this ilk. This one is routine.

Das Indische Tuch (1963)

DAS INDISCHE TUCH (1963)
aka The Indian Scarf
Article 2858 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-5-2009
Posting Date: 6-10-2009
Directed by Alfred Vohrer
Featuring Heinz Drache, Corny Collins, Klaus Kinski
Country: West Germany

Several heirs gather at the castle of Lord Lebanon for the reading of the will. They discover they must spend a week in the castle before they discover the terms of the inheritance. However, someone is strangling the heirs one by one using Indian scarves as weapons…

I have to admit that this krimi (based on a work by Edgar Wallace, the greatest writer of the century, but don’t take my word on it) really caught me off guard; I’ve seen enough of these that I thought I’d know what to expect, but this one surprised me. First of all, despite the fact that I listed the German title above, my copy of the movie was not in German; it was dubbed into English, but retained the original German credits. Furthermore, the print was excellent, and letterboxed as well. But the biggest surprise is the plot itself; rather than the usually hard-to-follow labyrinthine stories that I’ve come to expect from the genre, this is nothing more nor less than an ‘old dark house’ mystery. Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say, it’s a parody of the ‘old dark house’ mystery, and, for my money, one of the funniest takes I’ve seen on that hoary old chestnut. The dialogue is sharp and witty, the characters are well-defined, and the butler (who is followed around by a serving cart that seems to move of its own accord and who has to undertake the thankless task of removing the table settings of each guest who dies during the length of the movie) is a scream. The trappings are all there; secret passages, red herrings, murders, people stranded with no way to get home due to a storm, etc). It even has a fairly outrageous variation on the old “painting with removable eyes so the killer can spy on people through them” trick that makes for one of the high points of the film. Throw in a couple of self-referential jokes, and you have perhaps the most light-hearted and fun Edgar Wallace romp of the era. And it’s nice to see Klaus Kinski get a decent part in one of these as well.