Lifepod (1981)

LIFEPOD (1981)
Article 3484 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-22-2011
Posting Date: 2-27-2011
Directed by Bruce Bryant
Featuring Joe Penny, Jordan Michaels, Kristine DeBell
Country: USA
What it is: Low-budget science fiction

The first cruise spaceship to the planet Jupiter goes on red alert, and the passengers evacuate to the moon of Callisto, leaving a small contingent of passengers and crew behind. Most of these people make their way to a lifepod to make it to a nearby moon where they can expect rescue, but the captain stays behind because he suspects that the red alert was faked by the main computer. And why is the creator of that computer (who is aboard the lifepod) so afraid of it?

I was initially put off by this movie’s extreme low-budget effects, synthesizer score, low-key-to-a-fault acting, and somewhat confusing exposition. But I stuck with it and soon found myself intrigued by the central mysteries of the plot. Why did the computer fake a red alert? Why did the computer become sentient? What is the creator’s secret? The plot uses the basic HAL the computer scenario from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY for its jumping off point, and builds from there. The acting is actually quite good, and the script does weave an ultimately very satisfying story, one in which we’re not quite sure whether the computer or its creator is the real villain. Though I was initially disappointed at the central revelation, I grew to like it more and more as the movie wound down. The movie only has a rating of 4.8 on IMDB, but if you’re like me, you might find yourself liking this one quite a bit despite its flaws.

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Legacy of Satan (1974)

LEGACY OF SATAN (1974)
Article 3483 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-21-2011
Posting Date: 2-26-2011
Directed by Gerard Damiano
Featuring John Francis, Lisa Christian, Paul Barry
Country: USA
What it is: Devil worship antics

A young wife is targeted by a devil cult.

Director Gerard Damiano was primarily a porn director, and, if the user comments on IMDB are correct, this was supposed to be a porn movie, but all the explicit sex was cut and it was released as a straight horror movie. This is probably why the movie has a scant 68 minute running time and has noticeable jump cuts. It actually has a certain atmosphere to it, and certain scenes are a bit startling, but it’s extremely muddled, occasionally very silly (that glowing sword), badly scripted, poorly acted, and has a truly annoying synthesizer score. Ironically, I suspect the movie would have worked better as a porn film.

Last Cannibal World (1977)

LAST CANNIBAL WORLD (1977)
aka Ultimo mondo cannibale, Jungle Holocaust, The Last Survivor
Article 3482 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-20-2011
Posting Date: 2-26-2011
Directed by Ruggero Deodato
Featuring Massimo Foschi, Me Me Lai, Ivan Rassimov
Country: Italy
What it is: Italian cannibal film

A plane lands in the jungle, but the passengers discover that the camp they were searching for has been deserted and the residents eaten by cannibals. In their attempt to rescue one of their own members, they get lost, and must contend with the cannibal tribe while trying to get back to their plane.

My copy of this movie opens with a short interview from Ruggero Deodato in which he makes some interesting comments about the movie. He talks about the grueling process in which it was made (it was shot in a remote difficult-to-access area using real natives), praises the bravery of his cast (which, given the actions they are asked to do, seems fitting), and denies responsibility for the animals-killing-animals footage, which he claims were added by the producer against his wishes. Maybe so; the scenes of snakes attacking and killing other animals do feel tacked on and don’t always match the surrounding footage. However, some of the human-killing-animals footage doesn’t feel tacked on, and the scene where a crocodile is killed and eviscerated in onscreen detail looks too real to be faked, and provides a plot point, so I’m not sure I can hold Deodato blameless in this regard.

Of the Italian cannibal movies I’ve seen to this point, this is easily the most savage and the nastiest; it is also better made than the others I’ve seen. However, since the whole genre is rather offensive, one almost wishes it was poorly made so one could discard it; as it is, like it or not, the movie does have a certain power to it. It was the first of a trilogy of cannibal films helmed by Deodato, the second of which (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) is perhaps the most notorious of the whole genre. During the interview, Deodato talks about how the success of this movie gave him the means to shoot that later movie the way he wanted to, but how the censorship problems caused by the latter movie left him unable to work for three years. The movie is grotesque and nasty, and though it’s effective in some ways, there are some real ethical problems to contend with. I couldn’t help but wonder about the natives that were used in the movie; were they even cognizant of what they were doing and how the movie was portraying them?

You know, when I started this whole series, I never envisioned the day when I would have to start dealing with Italian cannibal movies, and had I even considered it, I would have thought that I would probably have abandoned the project long before they would come up. Well, I’m still doing it, and here they are, and I can’t help feeling a bit nostalgic for the days when I was still looking forward to the next Universal classic to come up on my list. As it is, I’m forging on ahead.

Lost Horizon (1973)

LOST HORIZON (1973)
Article 3416 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-9-2010
Posting Date: 12-21-2010
Directed by Charles Jarrott
Featuring Peter Finch, Liv Ullmann, Sally Kellerman
Country: USA
What it is: Musical fantasy

Refugees from a failed UN peace mission are on a plane that is hijacked to a remote location in the middle of nowhere. There they discover the Utopian world of Shangri-La… but is the lure of their own world too great for them to stay there?

I believe it was in “The Book of Lists” that I read a story about a country who decided to shorten the length of the movie version of THE SOUND OF MUSIC but cutting all the songs. Though it’s hard to imagine such a thing happening to that movie, that sounds like it might be a viable approach to handling this one. Not that I have any Utopian ideas of this movie being any undiscovered masterpiece if you removed the songs; it would be essentially an unnecessary, old-fashioned remake of a classic film that didn’t really add anything new to the story and suffered from some dodgy casting. But, of course, something new WAS added, and those are the songs, and every time one of them starts up, I find myself wanting to leave the room out of embarrassment for all concerned. I don’t really point the finger at Burt Bacharach and Hal David; they’re a fine songwriting team who just happened to be saddled with an impossible job that I doubt anyone could have pulled off. As it is, each song is stunningly inappropriate and out of place, and the uninspired performances and choreography just make it all the more painful. Quite frankly, turning this story into a musical was a bad idea for a movie that just happened to get made. Fortunately, there’s always the Capra version to fall back on.

The Living Coffin (1959)

THE LIVING COFFIN (1959)
aka El grito de la muerte
Article 3409 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-2-2010
Posting Date: 12-14-2010
Directed by Fernando Mendez
Featuring Gaston Santos, Maria Duval, Pedro de Aguillon
Country: Mexico
What it is: Mexican horror western… in Color!

A cowboy and his sidekick visit a ranch which is haunted by the ghost of an aunt.

Let’s see. The last time I encountered a Mexican horror western was when I watched the dreaded SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTER. That’s warning enough in itself, but the truth be told, this one is much better. There’s actually a bit of spookiness to some of the events here, for one thing. Another plus is that they use the comic relief sparingly (he’s mostly obsessed with sleeping), and he’s actually useful in the final fight. Furthermore, the hero’s horse is also useful; he actually points out some of the clues to solve the mystery, sort of like Scooby-Doo. Wait a minute… did I just give away something there? Maybe so, but I saw it coming early on; after all, SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTER was also a horror movie of the Scooby-Doo variety. Still, if you just have to watch a Mexican horror western, this one may fill the bill; it’s rather silly, but it’s certainly better than SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTER.

La legende du fantome (1908)

LA LEGENDE DU FANTOME (1908)
aka Legend of a Ghost
Article 3396 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-20-2010
Posting Date: 12-1-2010
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Early epic fantasy

A woman encounters a ghost who sends her on a mission to battle demons.

It looks like we’re going to have a short Chomon-a-thon here; I’ve acquired a collection of shorts from early silent fantasist Segundo de Chomon, and some of them are on my hunt list. I suspect that this one, like many of Melies’s films, came with narration; at least, I found the sequence of events highly confusing in my viewing. In many ways, it doesn’t matter; Chomon uses many of the same techniques that were used by Melies, but he has his own approach, and much of the imagery in this one is very striking indeed; I especially like the scenes where the demons tool around in a demonmobile. Chomon doesn’t seem quite as stagebound as Melies was, and on occasion it looks like he shot some scenes out of doors. It’s beginning to look like Chomon may be the most striking early director of fantastic genre features next to Melies, and I look forward to seeing some more of his work.

Laserblast (1978)

LASERBLAST (1978)
Article 3394 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-17-2010
Posting Date: 11-29-2010
Directed by Michael Rae
Featuring Kim Milford, Cheryl Smith, Gianni Russo
Country: USA
What it is: Neglected kid goes wild with alien weapon

When Billy discovers an alien weapon and its necklace power source in the desert, he becomes possessed by the power and goes on a rampage. Both the government and space aliens try to track him down.

At first, this movie doesn’t seem quite as bad as its reputation; the special effects are low budget but fun, the aliens are neat looking, and it has an interesting premise. Unfortunately, the movie is incredibly unfocused; the movie is cluttered with pointless scenes, undeveloped characters, muddled story-telling, and an overabundance of scenes of cars blowing up. It’s almost as if the script was never completed and is missing several key scenes, but was filmed anyway. The movie also fails to generate any suspense, and the main character remains an uninteresting cipher throughout. Ultimately, the movie fails because you never end up caring about what happens. Also, the movie makes poor use of two veteran actors; Roddy McDowall is killed off before he can really do anything, and Keenan Wynn is stuck in a potentially interesting role, but which ultimately isn’t used in any interesting way.