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.

Kiss Daddy Goodbye (1981)

Article 3719 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-5-2011
Posting Date: 10-20-2011
Directed by Patrick Regan
Featuring Fabian, Marilyn Burns, Jon Cedar
Country: USA
What it is: Odd zombie movie

When their father is killed by some bikers, two children gifted with psychic powers resurrect him and use his body to take revenge on those that killed him… and anyone else that threatens the children.

I don’t think I’ve ever quite seen this conjunction of various types of horror movies put together in quite this way; it’s a “revenge from beyond the grave” zombie movie, as well as a creepy kid movie with touches of THE FURY added to the mix. In its own low-budget way, it has certain charms; I like some of the spontaneous touches such as the background noise at various points in the movie and the way the car that is being pulled from the lake practically falls apart as we watch. Yet, there’s a listlessness about the production; it moves at a snail’s pace at times, and the acting seems distant and muted. In fact, after watching the first half, I found myself trying to find the best word to describe it, and came up with “preoccupied”; everybody in the movie seems to be acting as if they’ve got something else on their mind, as if there was a better movie being shot across the street and everyone wanted to go over there. In fact, there are times where this movie feels incomplete; in particular, a scene where the resuscitated father attacks a couple of surfers is nearly impenetrable, as if some scenes were missing. The movie ends up being quite bad, but in one of those curious ways that makes it almost an object of fascination. And it’s one of the only movies I’ve seen where you can see a man dig his own grave… after he’s dead.

Kindar the Invulnerable (1965)

aka Kindar the Invincible, Kindar l’invulnerabile

Article 3696 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-12-2011
Posting Date: 9-27-2011
Directed by Osvaldo Civirani
Featuring Mark Forest, Mimmo Palmara, Rosalba Neri
Country: Italy / Egypt
What it is: Arabian nights, sword and sandal style

The wife of a sultan is struck by lightning as she gives birth. The baby proves invulnerable to all human weapons, as per an old prophecy. The baby is kidnapped and raised by a band of desert bandits who discover his secret, and raise him as their own to use him to defeat the sultan’s kingdom. Will the man discover the secret of his heritage… and will anyone else discover his only weakness?

Whatever flaws the movie has, at the very least it has a storyline that offers some variety from the usual sword and sandal hokum; there’s not an evil queen in sight to deal with here. Unfortunately, it’s a little on the dull side as well, missing some of the fun elements of the other movies of its ilk. The middle section is particularly dull, and there’s some incredibly jerky camerawork during some of the battle sequences, which mostly consist of people sitting on camels and horses and flailing at each other with swords. At least Mark Forest has some fun with the action sequences, especially the first one where he takes on an assault of the bandits to test his strength. And at least the fantastic content clearly exists and plays a crucial role in the story, as the main character’s invulnerability drives the plot.

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.

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)

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.