An Inspector Calls (1954)

Article 3376 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-29-2010
Posting Date: 11-11-2010
Directed by Guy Hamilton
Featuring Alastair Sim, Jane Wenham, Brian Worth
Country: UK
What it is: Mystery/drama

In 1912, the evening of a well-to-do family is interrupted by the appearance of a police inspector who informs them of the death of a girl by poison, and that he wishes to interview the various members of the family concerning her death. They discover that, unbeknownst to each other, they knew her… and had each engaged in an act of cruelty towards her.

This was based on a popular stage play, but because the story involves the various members of the family having interactions with the girl in question, it keeps from being stagebound by merely re-enacting the various encounters rather than just having the characters talk about it. It’s a powerful, sad story, full of substance, and very well acted by all (but especially by Alastair Sim as the police inspector), and there’s a definite tinge of eeriness about the proceedings as we discover the series of coincidences that led to each member of the family meeting with the girl. Still, that sense of eeriness isn’t the fantastic content here, but I’m not going to elaborate on the latter; the movie is saving it all for the final twist, and it’s best to discover that twist on your own. This one is highly recommended.


I Killed Rasputin (1967)

aka J’ai tue Raspoutine
Article 3364 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-17-2010
Posting Date: 10-30-2010
Directed by Robert Hossein
Featuring Gert Frobe, Peter McEnery, Robert Hossein
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Another take on the Rasputin story

Prince Felix Yusupov recounts the tale of his meeting with and subsequent assassination of Grigori Rasputin, the faith healer that held great sway over the royal family in Russia prior to the revolution.

I’m rather surprised that I’ve seen so many versions of the Rasputin tale, largely because I didn’t know so many were made. This one takes an interesting approach; it tells the story from the point of view of Prince Yusupov and deals with his relationship with Rasputin, and his plan to have the man assassinated. As such, many of the scenes usually associated with the Rasputin story are omitted, as the focus is more on the Prince. It’s based on the book co-written by the Prince himself, and the opening of the movie features an interview with him and his wife; unfortunately, my print seems to be missing this scene. Considering the involvement of the Prince himself, it’s no real surprise to discover that (according to some user comments on IMDB) his character has been somewhat whitewashed; apparently, the Prince considered some of the other versions of the story to be slanderous. The movie is a little slow and dull on occasion, though it does give a clearer picture of why Rasputin was a threat to the country than some of the other versions, and Gert Frobe gives a good underplayed spin on Rasputin. As usual with this story, the fantastic aspects include the use of hypnotism, faith healing, and the near indestructibility of Rasputin in the final scenes. It’s not my favorite version of the story, but it has its uses.

The Invisible Fluid (1908)

Article 3254 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-17-2010
Posting Date: 7-12-2010
Directed by Wallace McCutcheon
Featuring Edward Dillon,D.W. Griffith, Anthony O’Sullivan
Country: USA
What it is: A comic trick film

A messenger boy delivers a fluid that causes people and things to vanish. He decides to use it for his own amusement, eventually turning to crime.

This movie has been described as one of the first to use the concept of invisibility. I may be splitting hairs here, but it’s not, because it’s not about invisibility at all. Those doused with the fluid vanish, which isn’t the same thing as becoming invisible; if something is rendered invisible, it’s still there but not visible, and in this movie, the doused people and items vanish completely; i.e., they’re not there. It’s played for laughs; its best moment is towards the end when the messenger boy finds himself being chased by a mob of angry people, and, tired of running, he makes the only defense he can. It’s mildly amusing, but let’s face it; the tricks here are pretty simple in comparison to some of the things Melies was doing at the time.

It’s Alive! (1969)

IT’S ALIVE! (1969)
Article 3228 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-20-2010
Posting Date: 6-16-2010
Directed by Larry Buchanan
Featuring Tommy Kirk, Shirley Bonne, Bill Thurman
Country: USA
What it is: Horror in Buchananland

Two vacationers get lost in the backwoods of the Ozarks and encounter a man who maintains a makeshift zoo. He locks the vacationers (along with a visiting paleontologist) in a cavern in the hopes they will serve as food for a prehistoric monster dwelling there.

Larry Buchanan’s best fantastically-themed movie? Well, I wouldn’t go that far; there’s something that just doesn’t sit right with me to put “Larry Buchanan” and the word “best” in the same sentence. It is, however, one of the rare times that I do have something good to say about one of his movies, and that is that the performance of Buchanan regular Bill Thurman is rather effective; he does a decent job of portraying a character that seems friendly on the surface but turns out to be an abusive madman underneath. Granted, his performance is uneven; it falters whenever he’s required to maniacally overact. The movie also has the advantage of not being a remake of a better AIP movie, so you can’t compare it to a better version of the story; still, this was because the script was not pursued at the time. Thurman’s performance aside, however, the movie is a stinker, with too many dull stretches and a particularly ill-conceived monster. The latter uses the same outfit that Buchanan used for CREATURE OF DESTRUCTION; it was a lousy monster suit to begin with, but at least in that movie it made a little sense. Here, it’s supposed to be a giant dinosaur, but it never once conveys any sense of real size, and it looks not the least bit dinosaurish. Still, the movie does make me want to see the movie AIP had originally planned to make with the script; it would have featured Elsa Lanchester and Peter Lorre. I’m assuming Lorre would have had the Thurman role, and I would love to see what he would have done with it; furthermore, he would have made the maniacal overacting scenes a lot more fun.

I, Monster (1971)

I, MONSTER (1971)
Article 3225 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-17-2010
Posting Date: 6-13-2010
Directed by Stephen Weeks
Featuring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Mike Raven
Country: UK
What it is: Jekyll and Hyde by another name

A psychiatrist develops a drug that is capable of suppressing the superego. His experiments on himself begin to turn him into an increasingly ugly psychopath.

There are some interesting changes to the Jekyll and Hyde story in this version. I do like the fact that in this one, the Jekyll character (here named Marlowe; for some reason they change the names of the title characters but leave the names of the others untouched) is an early follower of Freud, which underlines the psychological subtexts of the story. They’ve also increased and fleshed out the character of Utterson, making him more prominent and less of a literary device; in the original novel, he was telling the story. The movie is enhanced by very good performances from Christopher Lee (as Marlowe/Blake) and Peter Cushing (as Utterson), and the movie itself keeps fairly close to the original story. The biggest problem with the movie is the lifeless direction; if the performances were less accomplished, this movie would have been a major snoozefest. The movie came from Amicus, and was originally intended to be viewable in 3D through the use of the Pulfrich effect, which requires careful choreography and camera movement in order for it to work; that may explain why some of the scenes seem so oddly directed, particularly a tavern scene in which the movement really calls attention to itself.

The Invasion of the Zombies (1962)

aka Santo contra los zombies
Article 3190 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-12-2010
Posting Date: 5-9-2010
Directed by Benito Alazraki
Featuring Santo, Armando Silvestre, Jaime Fernandez
Country: Mexico
What it is: Mexican wrestler vs the undead

A professor vanishes after having written a book about his studies in Haiti. Meanwhile, there are reports of crimes being committed by unstoppable creatures whose fingerprints match those of dead criminals. Can Santo, the Silver Mask, solve these mysteries?

You know that the bad guys in a movie are really evil when one of their plots is to send out zombies to kidnap children from a local orphanage with the intent of using them as experimental subjects. You also know that no good-hearted Mexican wrestler is going to let them get away with that atrocity. This Santo movie is heavy on the wrestling scenes, especially towards the beginning; it’s a good ten minutes into the movie before you even get a hint of the plot starting up. This is a fun but standard entry in the Santo oeuvre, though it may be the closest he’s come to being unmasked during a movie; you actually get to see the bottom half of his face at one point. Amazingly enough, my copy had subtitles so I could easily follow the plot, though this one wouldn’t have proven a difficult challenge if it hadn’t had them. I’ve also noticed one standard scene; the bad guys try to get Santo by setting him up in a rigged wrestling match; in this case, they kill a wrestler and turn him into a zombie for the match.

In Search of the Castaways (1962)

Article 3132 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-24-2009
Posting Date: 3-12-2010
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Featuring Maurice Chevalier, Hayley Mills, George Sanders
Country: USA
What it is: Vernian adventure

When a Frenchman finds a message in a bottle that indicates that a captain is still alive, he, along with the captain’s two children, convinces a British lord to use his yacht to begin a search for the missing man.

Disney returns to the works of Jules Verne for this colorful adventure film, though the fantastic content of the film seems to be much fainter; THE MOTION PICTURE GUIDE describes it as a “fantasy/adventure”, but it’s only marginally a fantasy, and I can’t even point to a specific element that makes it qualify, unless the existence of a giant condor qualifies. It’s also a much more lighthearted effort; it’s even partially a musical, with Maurice Chevalier crooning a couple of songs during the movie. It’s almost impossible to take the movie seriously, especially when the adventures ride down a snow covered mountain in the Andes on a piece of cliff dislodged by an earthquake. In fact, this movie somewhat reminds me of the Indiana Jones movies in terms of the action setpieces. The cast also includes Wilfred Hyde-White as the lord, and features a cameo from Roger Delgado as a sailor held hostage.