Killer Fish (1979)

Article 5406 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-27-2017
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Featuring Lee Majors, Karen Black, Margaux Hemingway
Country: Italy / UK / Brazil /USA
What it is: IMDB says Horror, but…

A gang of jewel thieves in Brazil hides a box of stolen jewels in a lake and plans to wait sixty days before returning to recover the treasure. However, one member of the gang tries to make sure his partners don’t cheat on him by releasing piranha in the lake.

Someday I’ll come up with a category for movies that purport to be one type of movie but are actually another. The title of this one evokes memories of both JAWS and PIRANHA, and this movie would most likely not have been made if not for the success of these other movies. However, the killer fish aspect of the story is not the main plot, which is mostly concerned about the betrayals and double-crosses of a gang of jewel thieves. Even beyond that, the movie is more noteworthy for its spectacle and scenes of destruction (I wonder if Margheriti really had a hankering to make a disaster movie) than of its horror content. I don’t think the movie is badly done; its low rating on IMDB probably has more to do with the fact that it isn’t really the horror movie it seems to promise. Despite the presence of Italian director Margheriti, there’s no dubbing issue here; the movie was mostly shot in English, and there’s a lot of well-known English-speaking actors in the cast. Go in expecting a crime movie with some horror elements, and you’ll appreciate this one more.

Kokusai himitsu keisatsu: zettai zetsumei (1967)

aka The Killing Bottle
Article 5402 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-23-2017
Directed by Senkichi Taniguchi
Featuring Tatsuya Mihashi, Nick Adams, Makoto Sato
Country: Japan / USA
What it is: Spy antics

Two agents of the International Secret Police must prevent a crime organization from assassinating the President of Buddabai and his General.

This movie almost ended up on my “ones that got away” list, but I found a copy just before it was about to fall into it. From what I gather, it was the fifth in a series of movies about the International Secret Police; I believe one of the movies in the series provided the footage for Woody Allen’s WHAT’S UP, TIGER LILY? This was the third movie Nick Adams made in Japan during the sixties, and is the most obscure of the three. The fantastic content consists of the title method of assassination, a bottle of killer foam that expands and suffocates anyone in an enclosed space, though I think there might be a robot/cyborg involved in the mix as well. From the music and other clues, it appears to be comic in tone. I can’t say a whole lot about it because my copy is in Japanese without English subtitles, but it has a few interesting scenes, such as the one where a woman fends off attackers by using long-playing records as missile weapons. I did make one other observation; after all the jokes I’ve heard over the years over how badly Japanese movies were dubbed into English, it appears the reverse was true as well – the Japanese dubbing of Nick Adams doesn’t always follow the movement of his mouth, and there is a noticeable shift in background noise in some scenes when one person stops talking and another begins.

Koneko no rakugaki (1957)

aka The Scribbling Cat
Article 5350 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-20-2017
Directed by Taiji Yabushita
No cast
Country: Japan
What it is: Whimsical animated short

A cat’s scribblings on a big white wall come to life. However, when two mice steal his pencil, the cat must chase them in his drawn universe.

One advantage of making a short without any dialogue is that it can be readily appreciated by people who speak other languages without dubbing or subtitles. This utterly charming short is an example of such a film; it tells its fun and whimsical story with a great deal of imagination. It’s one of those concepts that requires animation to work. I’ve encountered Yabushita at least one before; he also gave us PANDA AND THE MAGIC SERPENT as well as ALAKAZAM THE GREAT. All in all, this is another fun foray into the world of Japanese animation.

King Neptune (1932)

Article 5291 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-7-2016
Directed by Burt Gillett
Featuring the voices of Marcellite Garner, Allan Watson
Country: USA
What it is: Disney Silly Symphony

Huge King Neptune, God of the Seas, takes revenge on a group of pirates when they kidnap a mermaid.

Can you say “pre-code”? I don’t mean that lightly in this case; with a passel of topless mermaids and a story line which involves pirates trying to engage in the other half of a two-verb phrase that includes the word “pillage”, we’re definitely not in whimsy territory here. This one is heavy in violence and strange visuals involving a variety of sea creatures. It is a pretty engaging cartoon, and I do have admire a cartoon that has more going on than just a series of whimsical visuals (a crime of which many cartoons of the era is guilty). Still, this one is really not for the kiddies.

Kashtanka (1952)

Article 5290 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-6-2016
Directed by Mikhail Tsekhanovskii
Featuring the voices of Boris Chirkov, Vladimir Feoktistov, Vladimir Gribkov
Country: Soviet Union
What it is: Dog story

A dog is separated from her owner during a long trip to the city and is adopted by a man who works in the circus and has a trained animal act.

This short animated film is based on a story by Anton Chekhov that is told from the dog’s point of view, which makes it somewhat similar to IT’S A DOG’S LIFE. However, it is perhaps even less of a fantasy than that movie; for one thing, the dog never addresses us directly – her thoughts and feelings are told to us by a narrator. The Walt Lee guide describes the fantastic content as being that of “a dog and his (sic) animal friends”, but if that conjures up visions of “Charlotte’s Web”, it should be noted that at no time do the animals talk to or fully understand each other; when a goose goes off on a speech (honking, not talking), all the dog realizes is that it must be important and that she can’t understand a word of it. So I’d have to say the fantastic content here is very marginal, and even the presence of a clown doesn’t turn it into a horror movie. That being said, it’s an excellent and moving little piece, and the animation is outstanding; I suspect it was rotoscoped, but if it was, it was still one of the most effective uses of that method I’ve seen; the characters move with such natural and realistic grace. My favorite moment is when the animal suddenly finds herself in a situation where she must choose between her old owners and her new one. All in all, this is a lovely piece.

Kaleidoscope (1935)

Article 5289 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-5-2016
Directed by Len Lye
No cast
Country: UK
What it is: Abstract animation

No plot.

Some of these abstract animations are kind of fun, and some of them are a drag, and sometimes I find it a little hard to say what it is about each one that makes it one or the other. I found this one to be fun, and I do have a few reasons why. One is that I like the jazzy music (BIGUINE D’AMOUR) that serves as the soundtrack. Another is that the animation itself is lively, fast-moving, and fun to look at. Another is that the short makes a few concessions from being a purely abstract piece by simply interspersing the film credits into the action during the first minute, and then by revealing itself to be an advertising piece for Churchman’s cigarettes in the final minute. Yes, this film does double duty as a cigarette commercial as well. My only complaint is the site at Daily Motion where I found this short insists on a running an ad for something else that you have to sit through before seeing the short; I really don’t think you should have to watch a commercial to see a commercial.

Never Kick a Woman (1936)

Article 5282 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-25-2016
Directed by Dave Fleischer and Seymour Kneitel
Featuring the voices of Mae Questel and Jack Mercer
Country: USA
What it is: Popeye short

Popeye takes Olive Oyl into a gym to teach her the art of self-defense, but she doesn’t take to it… until a sexy female boxer starts flirting with Popeye.

This cartoon pops up in my collection of banned cartoons, but it doesn’t appear to be due to any racial stereotypes. Rather, I think it’s the cartoon’s flirtation with domestic violence as comedy that is the controversial element; after all, Popeye only manages to get Olive Oyl into the gym by nearly assaulting her. Still, I should point out that Olive Oyl here ultimately manages to take care of herself, even if she has to eat a can of Popeye’s spinach to do so. I also need to point out that the can of spinach and the superpowers it brings about remains the only fantastic element here; there are no anthropomorphic animals here to contend with, even if the female boxer describes Popeye as a “fascinating monster”. Overall, this is a pretty good Popeye cartoon, with the mutterings of both Mercer and Questel adding to the fun, as well as whoever voices the female boxer (as a Mae West impersonation).

Kaidan Fukagawa jowa (1952)

aka Tragic Ghost Story of Fukagawa
Article 5220 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-2-2016
Directed by Minoru Inuzuka
Cast unknown
Country: Japan
What it is: Japanese ghost story

A woman is killed and returns as a ghost to avenge herself on those that have wronged her.

The Japanese churned out a plethora of ghost stories during the fifties, and most of them are interchangeable. This is one of the more obscure, based partially on the fact that it actually ended up on my “ones that got away” list as well as the lack of information about it on IMDB. Amazingly enough, though, it was released on DVD in Japan, and I managed to get a copy. As you might expect, there’s no English subtitles, and the generic plot description above is largely the result of the fact that I found it mostly very difficult to follow. Still, I’ve seen enough of these to know the routine; it’s usually a long ways into the movie before you get to the ghost action, and what happens before that usually involves a woman going through a series of painful situations (including an accident which scars them physically) before being killed and returning as a ghost. This movie is almost three-quarters through before we reach the death scene, and most of the plot seems to involve a love triangle of sorts. I found the first three-quarters very dull; however, the ghost section is moody enough, though it does use a lot of the same tricks I’ve seen in the other movies, including the ghost tricking a violent man into killing an associate. As I believe I stated in an earlier review, it’s interesting to see one or two of these; after that, it gets old.

The Killings at Outpost Zeta (1980)

Article 5100 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-6-2016
Directed by Robert Emenegger and Allan Sandler
Featuring Gordon De Vol, Jacqueline Ray, Jackson Bostwick
Country: USA
What it is: Monster movie

When three expeditions to an isolated planetary outpost lose contact with Starfleet, a fourth expedition is set out to find the reason. It is discovered that the earlier expeditions gave rise to a dangerous rock-like life form.

For me, most of the Sandler/Emenegger movies have gotten by because the stories were unusual enough to stave off the problems created by the plodding direction and extreme low budgets. The problem here is that the story isn’t all that unusual; it’s your typical “monster on the loose” story, and it requires the ability to generate suspense, and this requires the ability to change gears in the mood and the flow of the story. That is what doesn’t happen here; once the monsters manifest themselves, the scenes still retain the same low-key, understated mood of the expositional scenes. One of the biggest problems here is the score Robert Emenegger; it’s evocative and moody at first, but it underscores practically every scene in the movie and the lack of variety makes it nearly impossible to change the mood. This, combined with the fact that the special effects are just barely passable to begin with, gives the movie a dreary, tired quality; it’s hard to get involved in the story. I’d have to say this is the least successful of this team’s movies.

Knights of Terror (1963)

aka Il terrore dei mantelli rossi
Article 5052 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-17-2016
Directed by Mario Costa
Featuring Tony Russel, Scilla Gabel, Yves Vincent
Country: Italy / France / Spain
What it is: Costume swashbuckler

A small duchy is terrorized by a group of horsemen known as the Knights of Terror; they are believed to be the ghosts of an ambushed group of men seeking vengeance. The duke seeks the help of Captain Mirko to fight the terror, but Mirko refuses unless the duke’s daughter will take his hand in marriage. Much swordplay, intrigue and horse-riding follows.

It doesn’t happen very often, but every once in a while there pops up a movie in the realm of costume adventure that has enough fantastic content to be covered here. In this case, there is the rumor that the riders are ghosts, a scene involving a creepy secret passage, and even a touch of science fiction towards the end when an inventor pops up. If you watch this, you’ll probably figure out the true identity of the Knights of Terror early on, and the biggest mystery of the piece will be to wonder why the hero appears to be on the side of the villains. Beyond that, this is a pretty tepid affair, with the story coming to a halt so we can have lots of scenes of people riding around on horses, unnecessary sword-fighting scenes, and lots of footage of peasants carrying around what must be the standard peasant possession of the time, a two-pronged stick. All in all, this is uninspired action fare.