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.

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.

KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978)

Article 5009 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-5-2015
Directed by Gordon Hessler
Featuring Peter Criss, Ace Frehley, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley
Country: USA
What it is: Rock star superhero exploitation TV-Movie

A mad scientist at an amusement park seeks to replace the members of KISS with robots, but not if the members of the group can use their superpowers to defeat him.

I was in high school when KISS became popular, so naturally I was embroiled in the whole “KISS rules/KISS sucks” controversy; for the record, I was in the latter category. I think the reason this band had the controversy in the first place was because they had a gimmick; they all wore heavy makeup and had distinct personas on stage, with Gene Simmons’ fire-breathing tongue-wagging demon character merely the most prominent. The controversy mostly had to do with whether they were anything more than the gimmick itself. At any rate, the controversy means little to me now; though I still don’t think they were a great band, at least their music didn’t annoy the hell out of me like some bands I really dislike.

However, there doesn’t seem to be that much a controversy about this attempt to turn them into movie stars; the band itself hated the movie, and if it does have any fans, I suspect it’s more due to the concert footage than for the story. Granted, the group was told that the movie was going to be like a cross between A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and STAR WARS. Well, it does star a rock group and features special effects, but that’s about as close as it comes to that description. Perhaps a more apt comparison would be to say it’s like a Santo Mexican wrestling movie, which I’m pretty sure wouldn’t be seen as a compliment. The story is pure silliness, giving the group dumb superpowers and a ridiculous “mad scientist” plot. I’m tempted to say that one of the problems is that the members of the group can’t act, but the truth of the matter is that it’s hard to tell; one of the members was perpetually missing from the set and had to be replaced by his stunt double for most scenes, another missed the dubbing sessions and had his voice replaced by another actor, and all of Gene Simmons’ lines are either done with an echo box or consist of lion roars. Still, Simmons was the only group member here with enough stage presence to make an impression. Anthony Zerbe is a good choice for the villain, but his character is silly and tiresome. My favorite scene in the movie is the opening credits, where the group members appear as giants towering over the rides in the amusement park, and my favorite line in the movie has to do with someone mistaking the word “apocalypse” for the name of a rock group. Beyond that, unless you’re really into KISS concert footage, there’s little of interest here.

Der Kongress Amusiert Sich (1966)

aka The Congress of Love
Article 4976 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-2-2015
Directed by Geza von Radvanyi
Featuring Lilli Palmer, Curd Jurgens, Paul Meurisse
Country: West Germany / Austria / France
What it is: Historical comedy

After the Napoleonic Wars, a congress is convened by the various nations to restore the balance of power. The various members of the congress engage in political manipulation and interact with their lovers.

The fantastic content in this movie manifests itself early in the movie; the action opens in a modern-day wax museum where the figure of Prince Metternich comes to life and then walks into the past where most of the action of the movie takes place. The end of the movie also takes place in the present, and there is a fleeting moment in the middle which also bridges the past and the present; this one almost got by me until it hit me that automobiles weren’t period. Whether this time transition is a cinematic trick or is inherent to the story thematically is a question I can’t answer; the only copy of the movie I’ve been able to find is in German without English subtitles. Given the subject matter, I’m not sure whether the subtitles would have helped or not; I suspect that it would be necessary to have a solid grounding in the historical place, time and characters of the action to appreciate it. It seems to be well produced; the sets and costumes are quite impressive, and there’s a lot of music to the story (including one of the more obvious comic touches involving a badly played string bass). But I found it impossible to follow the story, and its 5.0 rating on IMDB doesn’t exactly make it sound that it’s really worth the effort to sort it out. It was a remake of a movie called THE CONGRESS DANCES, of which there were two versions. However, it does not appear that these earlier movie had any fantastic content to speak of.

The Killing Hour (1982)

aka The Clairvoyant
Article 4958 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-15-2015
Directed by Armand Mastroianni
Featuring Perry King, Norman Parker, Elizabeth Kemp
Country: USA
What it is: Mystery thriller

A cop who moonlights as a stand-up comic gets involved in a case of a serial killer who uses handcuffs on his victims. A woman artist with psychic powers begins drawing pictures involved with the murders. Will she be a target of the killer?

Personally, I’m a little tired of the psychic/serial killer combination; it’s popped up a few times in this series, and it’s to the point now where I’m beginning to find the idea a little hackneyed. That being said, I rather enjoyed this take on the subject, largely due to the fact that the characters and their relationships to each other are rather interesting. As a horror movie, it’s perhaps too restrained; in fact, it’s almost bloodless. As a mystery, it’s too easy; I zeroed in on the killer before it was even half over. Also, I have to admit that if I enjoyed watching the movie, it starts to fall apart when I start sorting through the plot points and asking questions. So, I’d have to say that overall, the movie isn’t really very good, but it does have a few good points.

The King of Kings (1927)

Article 4888 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-1-2015
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Featuring H.B. Warner, Dorothy Cumming, Ernest Torrence
Country: USA
What it is: The Christ story

The story of Jesus Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem, miracles, arrest, crucifixion and resurrection is told.

Of the various versions of the Christ story I’ve seen so far, this one is easily the best. Why? For one thing, it makes no attempt to tell the whole story; the movie omits the birth of Christ, the early years and picks and chooses which episodes to cover. Various events are taken out of order and juxtaposed together, and new details are added that, as far as I remember, were not in the gospels. The end result is a streamlined version of the story with the emphasis on maximum dramatic effect. There are some brilliant sequences here. One of my favorite moments is the first appearance of Christ. He does not appear until about twenty minutes into the movie; our first view coincides with the miracle of the sight being restored to a blind boy, and it’s a very effective entrance. The sequence where the seven deadly sins are cast out of Mary Magdalene is also quite memorable. Much emphasis is given to the surrounding characters; Judas, Simon Peter, Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate are all given memorable characters and moments. There are some wonderful touches here; one of my favorite moments is when Simon of Cyrene first tries to help Jesus carry the cross. A good deal of credit must also go to the performance of H.B. Warner; in his hands, Christ does much more than solemnly gesture, but is given a natural and quite moving personality. Furthermore, the movie even relaxes enough to have a sense of humor on occasion, such as the scene where the Roman soldiers go fishing. Yes, at two and a half hours, it is a long movie, but it would have felt a lot longer if the various elements hadn’t gelled. As it is, this one is very effective.