Jack the Giant Killer (1962)

JACK THE GIANT KILLER (1962)
Article 2472 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-8-2008
Posting Date: 5-19-2008
Directed by Nathan Juran
Featuring Kerwin Mathews, Judi Meredith, Torin Thatcher
Country: USA

A farmer saves the princess of the realm from a kidnapping by a giant. The king offers him the job of protecting her from the wiles of the evil wizard Pendragon. When Pendragon abducts the princess, he must rescue her.

This is a deliberate attempt to ape the success of the Harryhausen fantasy movies, right down to hiring Nathan Juran, Kerwin Mathews and Torin Thatcher, who all worked on THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. Jim Danforth was hired for the stop motion animation. Danforth’s animation isn’t up to the level of Harryhausen’s, and many of the other special effects look rather cartoony. However, this doesn’t necessarily make the movie bad; the special effects as they are give the movie a rather colorful, unique flavor. Storywise, it’s less mythological and more fairy-tale than the Harryhausen movies; in fact, it often reminded me more of THE MAGIC SWORD than any of Harryhausen’s movies. It’s entertaining enough, though it does suffer a little from lackluster direction and pacing, and a sense of derivitiveness. And, for the record, I watched the non-musical version of the movie; I’ve never seen the musical version, but I have a funny feeling I’d find it truly annoying. Heck, I was already annoyed enough by the rhyming leprechaun (they call him an imp, but I know a leprechaun when I see one) to want to hear him with music.

 

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J.D.’s Revenge (1976)

J.D.’S REVENGE (1976)
Article 2386 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-7-2007
Posting Date: 2-23-2008
Directed by Arthur Marks
Featuring Glynn Turman, Louis Gossett Jr., Joan Pringle

A law student becomes possessed by the spirit of a gangster who died in 1942 when he was mistaken for the murderer of his sister. He proceeds to exact revenge on the real murderer and the man who killed him.

This is the best of the blaxploitation horror movies I’ve seen for this series, but before you read too much into that statement, you should take note that only means I think it’s better than the silly SUGAR HILL and the confusing ALABAMA’S GHOST . The movie has its share of problems; once we realize that the student is being possessed, there’s nothing to keep the revenge from being acted upon than the need to fill out the running time of the movie, so we largely end up with our main character acting meaner and meaner between being confused and seeing the same assortment of flashbacks repeatedly. The movie has some moments that really strain credibility, especially at the end where the police more or less buy the possession story at face value. The movie also makes the mistake of making J.D. such a heel that it’s hard to work up any sympathy for him; quite frankly, the putative bad guys end up winning a greater amount of our sympathy. Nonetheless, the acting is solid, there are some very clever moments, and Lou Gossett steals the movie as the gangster-turned-evangelist. It’s certainly not one of The Fifty Worst Movies Ever Made, despite its inclusion in a DVD of the same title.

 

Journey to the Lost City (1959)

JOURNEY TO THE LOST CITY (1959)
Article 2256 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-20-2007
Posting Date: 10-16-2007
Directed by Fritz Lang
Featuring Debra Paget, Paul Hubschmid, Walter Reyer

An architect and a prince both love a temple dancer in the lost city of Eschnapur in India. This threatens their friendship, and plays into a plot to dethrone the prince.

Back when I covered the two-part THE INDIAN TOMB from the silent era, I wondered what it would have been like if Fritz Lang had actually directed it rather than only having written it. This is at least a partial answer, though it is definitely flawed by the fact that Lang was in his waning years at this point, the print I saw was actually a condensation of the two movies that made up the remake, and the dubbing and presentation make it seem a lot cheesier than it actually is. Nevertheless, it is a good movie, and it takes itself somewhat more seriously than other similar adventure films from this period, eschewing the use of comic relief, and giving the characters more depth than they might otherwise have. It’s a bit muddled and hard to follow at first, due no doubt to it being a condensation. The story is strong enough to make it work. This was the first time Fritz Lang worked for a German film company after fleeing Germany from the Nazis in the thirties.

 

Jaws (1975)

JAWS (1975)
Article 2192 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-17-2007
Posting Date: 8-13-2007
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Featuring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss

An island community dependent on its summer tourism trade for its income is plagued by the appearance of a great white shark right before the beginning of the tourist season.

Steven Spielberg is perhaps the most famous director of all time, and this is the movie that really brought him to the attention of the world. As far as I’m concerned, he deserved it for this one; it is one of the best and most exciting horror thrillers ever made. It is also the only Spielberg movie I’ve seen so far that I love and enjoy without reservations; I think it works superbly on every level. It delivers on the nail-biting suspense, livens it with effective comic moments which can turn serious on a dime without straining. It has an excellent score from John Williams, and it is used to good effect; Spielberg knows when to use music and when to use silence. It also has interesting moral issues, and fascinating and fun characters, especially Robert Shaw’s grizzled and colorful sea captain. Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider are also great in their respective roles, and the supporting cast is also top notch. The script is loaded with memorable lines. Best of all, it avoids the “playing for effect” scenes that occasionally give me a problem with Spielberg, those moments when we can see him so obviously pulling the manipulative strings that it muffles our enjoyment; the only moment that comes close is the scene where Scheider must contend with the mother who lost her child. I’ve seen this movie several times now, and it remains one of my favorites. Highly recommended.

 

Jennifer (1978)

JENNIFER (1978)
Article 2085 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-30-2006
Posting Date: 4-28-2007
Directed by Brice Mack
Featuring Lisa Pelikan, Bert Convy, Nina Foch

Jennifer, a shy college student at a private school, becomes the object of torment at the hands of shallow society girls. Little do they know that Jennifer has the power to summon snakes.

Believe it or not, this late seventies horror movie is subtly modeled off of another late seventies horror movie. Let’s see if you can figure out which one from the subtle clues below.

1. The movie title consists of a girl’s name, much as the the title of CARRIE does.

2. The title character is tormented by snooty rich kids, much like the way the snooty rich kids in CARRIE treat the title character in that one.

3. The title character has a secret power, much like the title character of CARRIE has. In this case, it is the power to summon and control snakes (a little bit like the main character in STANLEY does). Not just ordinary-sized snakes, mind you, but also those big fake-looking ones that are capable of decapitating people.

4. The title character has a crazy Bible-thumping parent, much as the main character in CARRIE has.

5. There is a scene of shallow people enjoying themselves in a disco much like the movie SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER has ( a movie featuring John Travolta, who is not only name-dropped on one occasion here but also appeared in CARRIE).

Now, can you figure out which movie served as the subtle model for this one? (HINT: It’s not SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER or STANLEY .)

All right, so I made it fairly obvious, but no more so than the movie itself does. Yes, it does manage to dredge up a few differences from its model (in particular, the main character’s parent is not the authority figure to get offed in the story), but whatever points it gains by these differences are lost by the use of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor as music at one point (how hackneyed can you get?) and for having a scene that takes place in a disco. If you’re going to drag me back to the seventies, at least don’t drag me to one of those.

 

Jack and the Beanstalk (1902)

JACK AND THE BEANSTALK (1902)
Article 2064 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-8-2006
Posting Date: 4-7-2007
Directed by Edwin S. Porter
Featuring Thomas White

Jack trades his cow for magic beans, which grow into a giant beanstalk which he climbs to encounter a giant.

Apparently, Edwin S. Porter used to pirate Melies films for the Edison film company, and would study them closely to figure out how he pulled off his special effects techniques. Here he applies them to his own movie, and he turned out to be an excellent student. Porter’s movies avoid the clutter that occasionally makes some of Melies’ films difficult to follow, and so this one is easy to understand. It is quite amusing, with lots of cinematic tricks (and some not so cinematic – I’m looking at you, guys in the cow outfit). Once again, our giant is just a really tall guy, but he carries one of those neat spiked clubs, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I also couldn’t help but notice that when Jack climbs down the beanstalk clutching the chicken that lays the golden eggs, there’s no way he can gracefully hold that chicken so as to allow it to retain its dignity. The last scene is beautiful.

 

Jungle Jim (1948)

JUNGLE JIM (1948)
Article 1968 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-4-2006
Posting Date: 1-1-2007
Directed by William A. Berke
Featuring Johnny Weissmuller, Virginia Grey, George Reeves

Jungle Jim is hired to lead an expedition into the jungle to find a lost temple. It is believed that a poison can be found at this temple that can lead to a cure for polio.

Okay, you’ve got Johnny Weissmuller, newly retired from the Tarzan series, and you want to star him in a fresh new series of jungle movies. Naturally, you want to start off the series putting your best foot forward to ensure success, so you decide you’ll have to come up with something extra-special for the plot. So, naturally, you decide upon…a Double-Stuffed Safari-O? For those unfamiliar with the term, I define a Double-Stuffed Safari-O thusly; it is any jungle movie which features exposition on one end, denoument on the other, and is filled in-between with an overly-generous portion of safari. I always take this plot as being the writer’s way of saying that they had no idea in how to fill in the middle of the story.

The safari section does serve some functions, though; it leaves plenty of time for animal antics and establishing that the woman (who is obviously intruding on a man’s world) can’t really hack it in this environment and needs a man to help her out (aka Jungle Jim). Probably the most novel thing the movie does is that it gives Jungle Jim two animal friends, and neither one is a chimp. One is a dog (which, as a pet in a jungle movie, is singularly lame), but the other is a raven (or a crow; I could never tell them apart). Though these pets wouldn’t persist throughout the entire series, I’ve run into them before, and once again, the dog proves near useless (man’s best friend indeed!), while the raven is the one who proves most useful in saving lives. Still, those willing to endure the safari section of the movie will find that the ending is pretty good, and fans of the “The Adventures of Superman” will get a chance to see George Reeves as the villain of the piece. Other than that, it’s pretty routine; elephant stampedes, animal antics, lion wrestling, same ol’, same ol’.