King Kong (1976)

KING KONG (1976)
Article 3646 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-24-2011
Posting Date: 8-8-2011
Directed by John Guillermin
Featuring Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange
Country: USA
What it is: Giant ape classic remake

While exploring a mysterious island in hopes of finding it rich in oil, an oil company discovers the existence of a giant ape. When the oil proves to be unusable, they hit on the idea of capturing the ape and using it as a promotional gimmick.

Trying to remake a movie that is as epochal and well-loved as the original KING KONG is an extremely difficult task; for one thing, devotees of the original will most probably be hostile to it from the get-go. As a result, this movie is much maligned by fans of the original, and the early emphasis in the movie’s promotion on the creation of a full-size mechanical model of the title character backfired when the model turned out to work horribly (its scenes are the worst in the movie). I quite love the original movie, but not as much as many others, and I resolved to give this remake a chance.

On the plus side, I quite like Jeff Bridge’s performance, but then, I’ve liked every performance of his I’ve seen. I mostly like Charles Grodin’s performance; he occasionally succumbs to an annoying strain of campiness that infects the script. If I get past the fact that they’re not using stop-motion, I quite like some of the special effects; the Kong mask is well articulated, and Rick Baker does a good job of bringing the character across (and he never succumbs to the campiness, but then, Kong doesn’t have any lines). The giant mechanical hand actually works well enough to pass muster.

Nonetheless, there are some formidable down sides to this movie. That aforementioned strain of campiness is a constant annoyance, often resulting in clunky “laugh” lines that sound way too self-conscious. I also don’t care for the way what was subtext in the original movie is made obvious here; the idea that this is a “love story” of sorts is really belabored here (especially near the end of the movie), and the movie makes way too big a deal of how the Twin Towers resemble two peaks on Kong’s island. Yet, for me, the worst problem is the reduction of the Fay Wray character from the original to an airheaded dumb blonde stereotype here. I don’t blame Jessica Lange (she played the character as written); I blame the writers. It’s hard to take the movie seriously when the heroine is yelling lines like “You male chauvinist pig ape!” or asking Kong what sign he was born under. Somehow, I find it really irritating that they have these endless scenes of her character trying to have conversations with Kong while having no battles with dinosaurs.

Then there’s the ending of the movie. I won’t go into detail, but it’s been said that people cried at the end of the original movie, and to my eyes, it seemed to accomplish this without trying for tears. This one really strains to make you cry at the end, and fails. Ultimately, I have to side with those who are disappointed by this one.

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Koko Kills Time (1927)

KOKO KILLS TIME (1927)
aka Koko in 1999

Article 3609 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-17-2011
Posting Date: 7-2-2011
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: “Out of the Inkwell” cartoon

Koko is chased into the future by an irate Father Time. There he has to cope with advanced technology.

Koko the Clown was a regular character in the “Out of the Inkwell” series by Dave Fleischer; they combined animation with live action, usually with a scenario in which the animated character (Koko) has to match wits with his animator. I wonder if Warner Brothers’ classic cartoon DUCK AMUCK owes anything to this concept. This isn’t the best I’ve seen of the series, but it’s amusing enough; Koko mostly has to contend with the “helping hands” in a barber shop, and then, thanks to his putting money in a device supposed to make predictions for his love life, he finds himself suddenly married with two children. The high point is probably at the beginning; the series always had some fun with the initial drawing of Koko, and this one is no exception. It’s an interesting excursion to the days of silent animation.

King Klunk (1933)

KING KLUNK (1933)
Animated short

Article 3579 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-13-2011
Posting Date: 6-2-2011
Director unknown
Voice actors unknown
Country: USA
What it is: KING KONG parody

Pooch the Pup goes into the jungle to film the giant monster known as King Klunk. Unfortunately, the monster takes a liking to his girlfriend, and he must rescue her from the monster.

King Kong was one of the few classic monsters of the era that didn’t originate from Universal, but it looks like they got one of the first parodies of the movie out with this Walter Lantz short. It features the mostly forgotten character of Pooch the Pup, and it isn’t a particularly great cartoon. Pooch plays a combination of characters from the movie, including the Carl Denham and the John Driscoll characters as well as one of the biplane pilots, and there’s a short Tarzan parody as well. The sacrifice scene, the fight with the dinosaur, and the final scenes in the city are all parodied. It’s all done in the cartoon style of the period, with minimal dialogue and lots of rubbery characters. All in all, more of a curio than a must-see, but genre fans will want to catch it.

Killah Priest (1977)

KILLAH PRIEST (1977)
aka Shao Lin zu shi, Killer Priest, Kung Fu Exorcist, Shaolin Tamo Buddhist Monk
Article 3463 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-29-2010
Posting Date: 2-6-2011
Directed by Fu Di Lin
Featuring Chin Hai Chen, Lei Chen, Sing Chen
Country: Hong Kong / Taiwan
What it is: Mystical martial arts mayhem

A doctor is suspicious of a Taoist priest who has come to his village to solve their drought by praying for rain. The priest is not to be trusted… but fortunately, a Buddhist monk shows up with the mission of making the doctor his pupil and teaching him the 18 styles of Shaolin kung fu.

This movie first entered my list under the title KUNG FU EXORCIST; it remained so elusive (partially because the original Chinese title was unknown) that I finally consigned it to my “ones that got away” list. However, doctor kiss recently passed on new information to me about the original Chinese title, and was able to point me in the direction of finding the movie under the other English title (under which it had a VHS release in this country) listed in the heading. I think this may prove to be my first real encounter with the whole Hong Kong Kung Fu genre, though INFRAMAN may also qualify, and my hats go off to the hardy souls who research these movies; my head was swimming just trying to match the movie credits on the actual print with those listed on IMDB, as the variant spellings of names are mind-bogglingly confusing.

Of course, there was no way this movie was going to live up to the KUNG FU EXORCIST title, but I didn’t expect it would. The main fantastic content is a revelation towards the end of the movie, but it could be argued that the whole thing is a fantasy as well. The martial arts sequences are almost giddily unrealistic; they’re thoroughly unconvincing while nonetheless remaining fascinating pieces of gymnastics and choreography. I don’t know how many of these movies I’m going to see, but I’m willing to bet there are as many conventions to the genre as there are for sword-and-sandal movies. If I do catch more of these, I wonder how often I’ll run into the phenomenon of Sound-Enhanced Gesturing; a lot of the training sequences involve people making gestures to vivid sound effects. There’s also lots of flips and tree-jumping.

I’m going to hold off on a critical evaluation; I suspect I’ll have to see more of these movies to gain a perspective. Nevertheless, this makes for an interesting introduction.

The Killer Nun (1978)

THE KILLER NUN (1978)
aka Suor Omicidi
Article 3405 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-29-2010
Posting Date: 12-10-2010
Directed by Giulio Berruti
Featuring Anika Ekberg, Paola Morra, Alida Valli
Country: Italy
What it is: Nunsploitation giallo

Sister Gertrude (who suffers from hypochondria, is addicted to morphine, is having a nervous breakdown and leads a double life to fulfill her sexual desires) has a problem; patients at the hospital where she works keep turning up dead around her. Is she also a homicidal maniac?

IMDB places this one under several genres, including mystery. Me, I find the mystery element extremely weak here; it’s so obvious who the killer is that I can’t believe they actually try to make it a big revelation at the end. The movie walks the line between nunsploitation and giallo. The stylistic touches here are bizarre and confusing, but not really ineffective. At least one of the murders is truly sadistic. I remember seeing Anita Ekberg in SCREAMING MIMI which I covered several years ago; for what it’s worth, she’s a much better actress in this movie than she was in that one, though I don’t think she quite pulls it off. If my review seems a little disjointed, then that’s appropriate; the movie itself is so, and sometimes I found myself wondering if it was a comedy, especially in the earlier scenes. All in all, it’s a real mixed bag, but at least I’ve never quite seen anything like it.

A Killer in Every Corner (1974)

A KILLER IN EVERY CORNER (1974)
Movie-length TV episode
Article 3390 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-13-2010
Posting Date: 11-25-2010
Directed by Malcolm Taylor
Featuring Joanna Pettet, Patrick Magee, Max Wall
Country: UK
What it is: Psychos and mad scientists

Three students are allowed to visit the home and laboratory of the renowned behavioral psychologist Professor Marcus Carnaby. What they don’t know is that they are actually there to be subjects in Carnaby’s experiments to see if his techniques have managed to cure three of his patients of their homicidal tendencies…

This is another episode of the British TV series “Thriller”, and I’d rate it as one of the best episodes I’ve seen. Part of the reason is Patrick Magee’s excellent performance as Carnaby, but the interesting story line also is a plus, and all the performances are very good. It was entertaining enough that it kept me from anticipating a twist that I should have seen coming, but I think that’s a sign that the story is working. Its worst problem may be that the ending feels a little too rushed and abrupt; I, for one, would like to find out what the fate was of a couple of the characters, but there probably simply wasn’t time to include it.

Kaibyo Yonaki Numa (1957)

KAIBYO YONAKI NUMA (1957)
aka Necromancy, Ghost-Cat of Yonaki Swamp
Article 3311 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-22-2010
Posting Date: 9-7-2010
Directed by Katsuhiko Tasaka
Featuring Shintaro Katsu, Takako Irie, Michiko Ai
Country: Japan
What it is: Ghost-Cat movie

When an old man is killed and his body is thrown into the swamp, his ghost and that of his cat seek revenge.

The above plot description is only an approximation and may be incorrect. My copy of the movie is in unsubtitled Japanese, and I was unable to follow the plot. I was able to appreciate certain scenes; there is one where the head of the murdered man appears out of nowhere, and I did catch one scene where an evil spirit is passed from one person to another. But how it all hangs together, I just can’t say. Apparently, ghost-cats have long been a legend in Japan, and during the fifties a string of them were made. I think this is the only one I’ve seen so far. Because of my inability to follow the story, I certainly can’t evaluate the movie, though I may give it a rewatching in the future to see if it becomes any clearer.