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)

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)

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)

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)

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.

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

aka L’annee derniere a Marienbad
Article 3366 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-19-2010
Posting Date: 11-1-2010
Directed by Alain Resnais
Featuring Delphine Seyrig, Giorgio Albertazzi, Sacha Pitoeff
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Art film

At a luxurious hotel, a man tries to convince a woman that they met last year (either here or somewhere else), but the woman does not seem to remember.

It’s considered an art film classic by many and reviled by others; I first encountered the title from the Medveds’ book “The 50 Worst Films of All Time”, to give you an example of the latter. It’s easy to see why there is such a variance of opinion; the movie is infuriating because it doesn’t play by the rules that we’re expecting, and if you get caught up in trying to figure out what is “real” or “true”, it could drive you crazy. It’s at least partially about the defectiveness of memory. There’s no doubt it has a fascinating visual quality, and at times it almost feels like a silent film. There are moments of high drama, but they’re fleeting and possibly deceptive. There are moments where what we see and what we hear are not in sync; for example, during a concert we see two violinists and hear an organ. The question becomes – do we believe what we see or what we hear, or does it alternate? And if it alternates, what do we believe when? It’s a fascinating movie in its way. Of course, the fact that I’m covering it means that I must address the nature of its fantastic content. All I can say is this; when a movie is this ambiguous, than the fantastic content could be anything a feverish imagination might conjure up. I do know this much; there are moments where the man speculates if the woman he is speaking with is alive, and we see a scene later on that makes it look as if the woman has been murdered by the man who may be her husband. But in a movie of this nature, that’s no proof of anything. As to whether the movie is a classic or a piece of twaddle, let’s just say that it’s an enigma, and how much you take to it may depend on how much you like enigmas.

Legend of the Werewolf (1975)

Article 3282 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-16-2010
Posting Date: 8-9-2010
Directed by Freddie Francis
Featuring Peter Cushing, Ron Moody, Hugh Griffith
Country: UK
What it is: Faux Hammer werewolf tale

A child raised by wolves is captured by a travelling showman for display in his circus. When the boy grows up, he takes on a job at a zoo in Paris, but his wolf upbringing has come with him… especially on the nights of the full moon.

There is such a wealth of Hammer stalwarts in this Tyburn production that it’s no surprise it feels like a Hammer movie, albeit one that feels somewhat anomalous in the mid-seventies. Yes, it feels like a rehash of CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, but that should be no surprise, given that both scripts were written by Anthony Hinds. Still, despite the fact that it’s a rehash of sorts, I really like this movie, at least partially due to the excellent cast. Yes, David Rintoul is no Oliver Reed, but the surrounding characters are all quite interesting, and I think the story has a better flow. It has some interesting touches; my favorite is that the werewolf doesn’t appear to be quite as devoid of reason as werewolves usually are; he can speak, and he does seem to be able to tell his friends from his enemies. The end is particularly touching, as we sense that this is one monster that could have been redeemed. The best thing about the movie, though, is Peter Cushing. For a while, I was wondering if he was only going to serve as narrator as he does during the opening section of the movie, but once he appears, he steals the movie; his police surgeon/coroner character would have made a fine protagonist in a TV or film series; it’s a shame something like that never developed.