L’inferno (1911)

L’INFERNO (1911)
aka Dante’s Inferno
Article 2829 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-4-2009
Posting Date: 5-12-2009
Directed by Francesco Bertolini, Adolfo Padovan, Giuseppe de Liguoro
Featuring Salvatore Papa, Arturo Pirovano, Giuseppe de Liguoro
Country: Italy / UK

Dante seeks to make his way to paradise, but must pass through the bowels of hell first. He is given the poet Virgil as his guide.

Dante’s “The Divine Comedy” is considered a classic, but I found it one of the least enjoyable reads in my life. For one thing, a decent translation of an Italian poem into English is a rarity, and most of the historical characters we meet are obscure Italians who were probably very well known in Dante’s time and place, but are totally forgotten nowadays; it’s rather difficult to appreciate their punishments and/or rewards when you have no idea who they are. Still, the idea of a filmed version of the first book (“Inferno”) isn’t a bad idea, as it allows the filmmakers to come up with a number of visions of hell, and this movie takes full advantage of the idea. Therefore, this movie is primarily entertaining on the level of spectacle; we get to see the damned (almost all of them naked or near-naked) suffering the various tortures of the devils of hell. Of course, it’s very much a “Christian” hell; I’m certain Muslims wouldn’t be too happy with the fate of Mohammed in the movie, nor would they tolerate his appearance as a character. I do have to admire the ambition of the effort; it took three years to make, and, unless I’ve forgotten something, this is now the earliest feature-length movie that I’ve covered for this series. One problem I had with my copy, though, is the soundtrack by Tangerine Dream; I don’t mind it in terms of its music, but I don’t think scores for silent pictures should have lyrics, as they distract from the action.

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The Invasion of the Vampires (1963)

THE INVASION OF THE VAMPIRES (1963)
aka La Invasion de los vampiros
Article 2760 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-27-2008
Posting Date: 3-4-2009
Directed by Miguel Morayta
Featuring Ema Martha Bauman, Rafael del Rio, Tito Junco
Country: Mexico

Residents of a hacienda are being terrorized by a vampire called Count Frankenhausen. A student of the occult arrives to take care of the problem.

Like its predecessor, THE BLOODY VAMPIRE, this Mexican horror movie is pretty uneven. On the plus side, it is extremely atmospheric at times, and occasionally makes very effective use of sound. On the minus side, the plot is hard to follow, the dubbing is atrocious, and the bat is pretty silly-looking. Still, it does some interesting things with vampire lore; my favorite touch is that the vampire’s victims don’t rise from the dead and become vampires themselves until the Count’s death, and the result is something like a scenario from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. In the final analysis, I think it’s superior to THE BLOODY VAMPIRE, since it does a better job of sustaining its atmosphere; the scenes of the newly-risen vampires wandering around with stakes in their hearts (a failed attempt to destroy them when the local priest doesn’t allow them to burn the bodies) are quite eerie.

Interplanetary Revolution (1924)

INTERPLANETARY REVOLUTION (1924)
aka Mezhplanetnaya revolyutsiya

Animated short
Article 2737 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-3-2008
Posting Date: 2-9-2009
Directed by Nikolai Khodataev, Zenon Komissarenko, Youry Merkulov
No cast
Country: Soviet Union

A Soviet hero goes to Mars to save the Martians from evil capitalists.

The Don Willis guide describes this short animated film from the Soviet Union as a parody of AELITA, and maybe it is. However, I can’t really find anything parodistic in its tone, and, given the fact that Soviet filmmakers were not allowed freedom of expression, you’re not going to find much in the way of a different message here. Animation-wise, it’s reminiscent of Terry Gilliam, only without the humor; it’s mostly grotesque portrayals of certain capitalistic stereotypes doing their evil capitalist things, such as sucking the blood of the workers. Plotwise, I found it nearly impossible to follow; I guess telling a coherent story wasn’t really high on the priorities of this one. Nonetheless, the bizarre animation and imagery do make it watchable, and it is interesting from a historical perspective. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Russian people would really have rather watched a Felix the Cat cartoon.

The Immortal (1969)

THE IMMORTAL (1969)
TV-Movie
Article 2679 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-28-2008
Posting Date: 12-13-2008
Directed by Joseph Sargent
Featuring Christopher George, Ralph Bellamy, Don Knight
Country: USA

A test car driver’s blood is given in a transfusion to a dying tycoon, who makes an amazing recovery. When it is discovered that the driver’s blood is immune to all known diseases and has amazing curative properties, the tycoon decides to fake the driver’s death and kidnap him so he can rejuvenate himself whenever he wants to.

As a TV-Movie movie doing double time as a pilot for a TV series, this one is pretty good; it’s well-acted, exciting, and quite entertaining. Still, I’m not sure I would have allowed it to go on as a series; I suspect that this pilot pretty much exhausted the possibilities of what we could do with the central fantastic gimmick, which means that from here on out, the immortality theme would serve as little more than a Gizmo Maguffin for what seems to be another variation on “The Fugitive”. As it is, the show lasted about half a season before coming to an end. There are a couple of things I didn’t care for in the movie. One is Barry Sullivan’s make-up as the dying tycoon; it looks like old age makeup rather than making him look like he’s old (if you know what I mean). The other is Carol Lynley. I’m not sure why, but as I continue with this series, I’ve discovered that there’s something about her performances that I don’t like; to me, they feel artificial, and there’s a cuteness about them that feels contrived. And at heart, I would have enjoyed this movie more if it had featured a complete story arc rather than having served as a setup for a series.

 

Illusion of Blood (1966)

ILLUSION OF BLOOD (1966)
aka Yotsuya kaidan
Article 2676 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-25-2008
Posting Date: 12-10-2008
Directed by Shiro Toyoda
Featuring Tatsuya Nakadai, Marko Okada, Junko Ikeuchi
Country: Japan

A samurai poisons his wife, and then finds himself haunted by her spirit.

This is the second version I’ve seen of this particular story; the other is THE GHOST OF YOTSUYA. I have to admit to being a little disappointed by this one; though it’s quite well made and has some very effective and eerie moments, it also gets a little dull on occasion. Furthermore, there’s something a little distracting about the comic relief in the movie; it’s another case where the comedy element detracts from the power of the story. Still, I do have to wonder what I’m missing; the running time of the Japanese version of this movie goes over three hours, which means the movie was virtually cut in half for the print I’ve seen, and apparently huge amounts of the violence and nudity was removed. Still, there’s something compelling about the story, and I like the concept that ghosts can create illusions that can cause the characters to perform acts against their own best wishes.

 

The Incredible Hulk: Death in the Family (1977)

THE INCREDIBLE HULK: DEATH IN THE FAMILY (1977)
TV-Movie aka The Return of the Incredible Hulk
Article 2673 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-22-2008
Posting Date: 12-7-2008
Directed by Alan J. Levi
Featuring Bill Bixby, Jack Colvin, Lou Ferrigno
Country: USA

Bruce Banner gets involved with a young heiress who has lost the ability to walk after she was rescued from a boat fire that killed her father. He discovers that the heiress is being poisoned by her stepmother and an unscrupulous doctor. This makes him angry, and you wouldn’t like him when he gets angry…

Adventures in Movie-Watching: This movie first entered my hunt list under the title THE RETURN OF THE INCREDIBLE HULK, a title that is easy enough to find when you’re hunting movies. Unfortunately, the movie that is marketed under that title is NOT this movie; it is, in fact, a movie called THE INCREDIBLE HULK RETURNS, a late eighties TV-Movie that made an unsuccessful attempt to revive the series, and, from what I saw of it, looks pretty silly. For a while, I assumed that the movie I was looking for was one of those TV-Movies hammered together from episodes of the TV show. It was only later I discovered that this was actually the second movie-length pilot for the original series, and was available on the recent DVD releases of the series. So, finally, I’m able to cover it.

I have to admit that I never watched the series when it was popular for a couple of reasons. For one, I felt that live-action TV versions of superheroes tended to compromise the concept by having the superheroes fight ordinary villains rather than supervillains. The other reason is that I’m not a particular fan of the whole superhero genre in the first place, a revelation that often leaves the mouths hanging open of my friends when they discover this. At any rate, I pretty much ignored the series.

Now, having seen the second pilot, I understand why it became a series, and, if this pilot accurately captures the feel of the series itself, I can understand the affection that the series has garnered over the years. It’s greatest asset is simple; Bill Bixby’s performance as Bruce Banner is so captivating that you totally caught up in the character and his issues. Furthermore, this TV-Movie has a good script and is quite well directed; you really do care about all of the characters you’re supposed to care about, and their struggles and conflicts have a real resonance. I even liked Lou Ferrigno’s performance as the Hulk, even when the script calls for him to do something other than wreak havoc; he handles comic scenes and the more poignant scenes very well indeed. The biggest problems I had were probably unavoidable. The sequences where Bruce Banner must get angry in order to turn into the Hulk often feel contrived (and I’m willing to bet this problem extended to the series as well), and the special effects aren’t always up to par; the Hulk’s battle with the grizzly bear actually looks convincing enough until… well, if you’ve seen it, you probably know what I mean, and if you haven’t, you’ll know what I mean when you see it. Still, the problems are easily overlooked; Bill Bixby’s performance is such a solid anchor that you’re quite willing to forgive any flaws. Had I been the TV executive in charge of deciding whether to turn this premise into a series, the TV-Movie would have convinced me that it would fly.

 

It’s a Dog’s Life (1955)

IT’S A DOG’S LIFE (1955)
Article 2645 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-3-2008
Posting Date: 11-9-2008
Directed by Herman Hoffman
Featuring Jeff Richards, Jarma Lewis, Edmund Gwenn
Country: USA

A bull terrier tries to survive on the streets of the city with his mother. He discovers the secret of his birth, and then his mother vanishes. He vows to find his mother so he can take care of her, and to find his father so he can kill him.

The story is a borderline fantasy because we’re told the story from the dog’s point of view. This basic premise could have been used any number of ways, but I really like the way they went. An uncredited Vic Morrow provides the voice for the streetwise bull terrier called Wildfire, and he manages to give the dog a really engaging personality. It also helps that the movie does not shy away from darkness; the dog is trained as a fighting dog, and though we don’t actually see the dogs fighting (Wildfire accurately tells us that we don’t need to see it to know what’s going on, and even name-drops the Humane Society and the ASPCA at one point), we still get to see enough of the ugliness and seediness of this world to make us really care about the the dog’s fate. The story lightens up somewhat when the dog is befriended and adopted by a kindly old man, but somehow the sense of potential darkness and tragedy never entirely dissipates. The movie even achieves an unexpected depth when the dog finally wins over the unhappy owner of the estate; their bond turns out to be that they’ve both stared death in the eye. With all that, the movie manages to retain a charm and wit that really brings it to life.

Still, I couldn’t help but ponder sadly over what would happen to this movie if it were made today. No attempt is made in this movie to make the dog look like he’s actually talking; nowadays, I’m sure they’d go the route of using the talking animal effects we see in so many movies and TV commercials, and that fragile sense of reality that this movie retains would be lost. Furthermore, the darker aspects of the movie would be traded in for a series of “dogs sniffing butts” jokes, and the whole movie would probably end up like the chaotic dog show that makes for what I felt was the weakest scene in this movie. The very thought of this saddens me somewhat.