The Keeper (1976)

Article 3973 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-8-2012
Directed by T.Y. Drake
Featuring Christopher Lee, Tell Schreiber, Sally Gray
Country: Canada
What it is: Crime / Horror movie

A private investigator is checking into the doings at an exclusive insane asylum for the rich; the families of the patients have been dying off, leaving the inmates with as the sole heirs.

One of Christopher Lee’s most striking natural traits is his great height; his ability to tower over the other cast members gives him an imposing presence. Therefore, to saddle him with a handicap that forces him to hunch over and walk with a cane, especially when there’s no decent reason dramatically for him to be this way, seems counter-productive. Now I don’t know whether that was a choice of the director, the writer, or Lee himself, but that’s just one of the many problems of this rather plodding and bizarre movie that just might be described as a Canadian krimi. Other problems include the presence of one of the most dimwitted (and worst) comic relief cops in the history of cinema; I’m not sure whether the gusto with which actor Ross Vezarian throws himself into this part is something worthy of admiration or mounting horror. The lackluster direction and general sense of absurdity certainly don’t help. And yet… I can’t quite bring myself to write the movie completely off. There are certain odd touches to the story that keep it interesting (such as the existence of an extraordinarily useful shoeshine boy and a plot point that involves twins with a Corsican-brothers like sensitivity to each other), and even if Lee does seem a little lost here, I never get the sense that he’s just blowing this one off. Make no mistake – the movie is bad, but at least it’s interesting bad.

Klaun Ferdinand a raketa (1963)

aka Rocket to Nowhere, Clown Ferdinand and the Rocket
Article 3924 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-2-2012
Posting Date: 5-12-2012
Directed by Jindrich Polak
Featuring Jiri Vrstala, Hanus Bor, Vladimir Horka
Country: Czechoslovakia
What it is: Children’s comedy

Clown Ferdinand encounters a rocket and a robot that can turn invisible.

Apparently, several movies have been made with the character of Clown Ferdinand, which leads me to believe that he was a fairly popular children’s character. If the plot description above is threadbare, that’s because any real plot thread seems to be hidden in the dialogue, which, since it isn’t in English, I can’t follow. Still, that’s not a big factor here, as the movie mostly seems to focus on various slapstick comic scenes which don’t require much in the way of explanation. It’s juvenile and only slightly amusing, but what else do you really expect from a movie like this? Still, I will give the movie credit for one thing; at least Clown Ferdinand comes across as likable and not annoying, and for adults having to watch these movies, that’s a definite plus. The robot (when he’s visible) resembles Robby a little, and he actually gets the biggest laugh when he does a little dance routine. The movie is inconsequential, but harmless.

Kung Fu Zombie (1982)

aka Wu long tian shi zhao ji gui
Article 3920 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-28-2012
Posting Date: 5-8-2012
Directed by Yi-Jung Hua
Featuring Billy Chong, Kang-Yeh Cheng, Lau Chan
Country: Hong Kong
What it is: Kung Fu horror comedy

A bank robber, seeking revenge against the man who caused him to go to prison, recruits a wizard to resurrect zombies to help him with his vengeance. When the plan backfires and the bank robber ends up dead, his ghost tries to force the wizard to give him a new body…but further complications arise.

I expected a martial arts/horror movie going into this one, but I have to admit I wasn’t expecting a comedy – at least, not one that was intentional. But that’s exactly what it is, and with its manic Three Stooges energy level along with its ridiculous situations, it’s actually somewhat effective; I ended up laughing a number of times at this silly movie. In fact, it most reminded me of INFRA-MAN, and though it’s not quite up to that level, this is still a fairly entertaining movie nonetheless. The plot gets pretty farcical at times, and is full of outrageous coincidences, and you end up with a ghost, a vampire, and a passel of zombies to fill out the movie, along with the usual kung fu cliches. I was expecting a lot worse myself.

Killer’s Moon (1978)

Article 3919 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-27-2012
Posting Date: 5-7-2012
Directed by Alan Birkinshaw
Featuring Anthony Forrest, David Jackson, Tom Marshall
Country: UK
What it is: Horror movie… at least, I think it’s trying to be

A busload of schoolgirls is stranded at an isolated hotel… and find themselves at the mercy of four mental patients who have been the subject of drug experiments that have left them believing that they’re dreaming.

The first half of this movie is actually rather effective; there’s an offhand, slightly comic air to the proceedings that has the effect of leaving us with the feeling that everyone involved has no real sense of the pending horrific ordeal. I also like the central idea that the escaped inmates are under the sense that they’re dreaming, which is established before we meet them. Yet I found myself thinking that it would be extraordinarily difficult for the various members of the creative team to render that idea effectively and convincingly. As a result, I’m not totally surprised that the movie ends up stumbling at this point; once we meet the inmates and they start talking, it stops feeling like a horror movie and feels like we’ve wandered into a rather self-referential and pretentious absurdist play, with the inmates endlessly speculating on how they can be sharing the same dream, and how they don’t have to worry about what they do because it’s all a dream, etc… in short, they’re not acting like they’re actually in a dream, they act like they know they’re in a dream, and that’s not the same thing. It’s at this point that the movie stops feeling real and starts feeling mannered, and despite the rape and carnage that ensue, any suspense has gone out the window and given way to detached mental speculation. In the end, the movie ends up feeling like a dream, though not a nightmare; the latter seem a lot more real when you’re having them. I don’t know if that makes the movie “bad”, per se; a lot depends on what the filmmakers were trying to do. But the end result is more of a surreal mental exercise than a horror movie.

Kuroneko (1968)

aka Yabu no naka no kuroneko, Black Cat
Article 3815 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-14-2012
Posting Date: 1-24-2012
Directed by Kaneto Shindo
Featuring Kichiemon Nakamura, Nobuko Otowa, Kiwako Taichi
Country: Japan
What it is: Ghosts and samurais

A man, taken away to fight in the wars, becomes a samurai after defeating a terrible enemy. He is sent on a mission to destroy monsters who are killing and drinking the blood of samurai warriors. He discovers the monsters are ghosts of his wife and mother, who have sworn to drink the blood of all samurais.

I’ve seen enough of these type of Japanese horror movies that they don’t seem quite as novel as they used to be for me. As a result, this one didn’t startle me quite as much as it might have done had I seen it earlier. Nevertheless, I think it’s a very solid movie, and it anchors itself in fascinating dramatic problem in which the samurai must choose between the honor of his profession and his love for his family, while the ghosts also have the same issue, with a conflict between their oath to the evil gods and their love for their son/husband. This tragic air is what gives the movie its extra power, and, like several other Japanese horror movies of this type, it has some wonderful imagery. This one is recommended.

Knives of the Avenger (1966)

aka I coltelli del vendicatore
Article 3731 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-17-2011
Posting Date: 11-1-2011
Directed by Mario Bava
Featuring Cameron Mitchell, Fausto Tozzi, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart
Country: Italy
What it is: Period action-adventure

The queen of a viking village flees with her son after her husband has disappeared and a brutal villain, hoping to have the throne for himself, sets his sights onto forcing her into marriage. A knife-throwing stranger comes upon the scene and begins protecting her. However, even though she does not recognize him, he is no stranger…

Even though this period adventure film came from Italy and was produced near the end of the sword-and-sandal era, I had a hunch that this movie didn’t quite deserve to be lumped in with that form, despite its similarities. Upon watching it, I believe my hunch was right; our hero has an extra level of complexity that is missing from the usual peplum hero, as he has an atrocity in his past for which he must redeem himself, and it just so happens that his own vengeance for a wrong did to him dovetails with what he must do to gain redemption. As a result, this one comes off as distinctly more adult than a sword-and-sandal movie; if anything, it feels more like a western transplanted into Viking settings. The fantastic content is very slight; since the hero has no super-strength, all the movie really has in this regard is the presence of a minor soothsayer/sorceress character. The presence of Mario Bava as director does not change this movie into a horror movie in any way, but he does draw from his horror experience to add a lot of moody tension to a battle scene in a darkened inn, one in which the absence of light heightens the suspense a great deal. I actually found myself quite satisfied with this one.

Karzan, le maitre de la jungle (1972)

aka Karzan, il favoloso uomo della jungla, Karzan, the Fabulous Jungle Man
Article 3730 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-16-2011
Posting Date: 10-31-2011
Directed by Demofilo Fidani
Featuring Johnny Kissmuller Jr, Simonetta Vitelli, Ettore Manni
Country: Italy
What it is: Tarzan clone

An expedition is launched into the jungle to locate a white man living like a savage.

With a title that so obviously gives away its source of inspiration and a leading man whose name is clearly a gimmick nom de plume, you’d think this movie would at least have a certain amount of tongue in its cheek or that there would be something about it that would make it different in tone from its model. But such is not the case; it’s a straightforward variation on the original Tarzan story, and a particularly dull one at that. The first half is pure Double-Stuffed Safari-O, and except for a tiny excerpt in a bit of film at the beginning, Karzan doesn’t appear until more than half the movie has passed. Karzan has a little bit in the way of super-strength, but hardly enough to compensate for the fact that the fantastic content consists of little more than the Tarzan legend. It’s one of those movies where hardly anything interesting happens. Still, three things stand out in the movie. One is that I wouldn’t choose a jungle guide whose first name is “Crazy”, no matter how well-recommended he comes. Another is that someone involved in this movie was addicted to shots of things coming right into the camera right before a jump cut, a trick that gets old very fast. And finally, the whole “Me Tarzan, you Jane” sequence here involves not Karzan and a woman from the expedition, but between Karzan’s female companion Shiran and the woman from the expedition (“You Shiran, I Monica.”). The ending is head-scratchingly unbelievable.