The Man With Two Heads (1972)

Article 4345 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-23-2013
Directed by Andy Milligan
Featuring Denis DeMarne, Julia Stratton, Gay Feld
Country: USA
What it is: Jekyll and Hyde revisited

Dr. William Jekyll is experimenting with a formula that will remove the evil in man, but when he can’t get test animals, he loses his patience and tests on himself… with horrible results.

The most amazing thing about this movie is that the script is mostly coherent. Yes, I know that’s damning with faint praise, but I do mean it sincerely; of all of the movies I’ve seen by Andy Milligan to this point, this is the only one that actually seemed to have a story you could actually follow, and when you consider that his screenplay writing was one of the areas where he least impressed me, that marks a great stride forward. He even manages to incorporate some “Jack the Ripper” and “Marquis de Sade” themes into the Jekyll and Hyde story he recycles here; which in some ways seems obvious, but I’ve not seen it clearly articulated before. The acting is actually quite good throughout, but that doesn’t really surprise me; whatever his other weaknesses are, Milligan did show an ability to get decent actors. This movie even manages to do a better job than is his wont in terms of actually looking like a period piece. Granted, I still have little use for his “camera-out-of-control” action sequences or his attempts at montage, both of which tend to bring on headaches. And I noticed one other consistent problem with his work; the endings of his movies always feel rushed and confusing, as if he was getting bored and just wanted to finish it off. Nevertheless, this is probably the strongest movie I’ve seen so far from his oeuvre.

The Mummy’s Revenge (1973)

aka La venganza de la momia
Article 4338 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-16-2013
Directed by Carlos Aured
Featuring Paul Naschy, Jack Taylor, Maria Silva
Country: Spain
What it is: Mummy movie

When the mummy of a sadistic ancient Egyptian is discovered, a high priest steals it and sets out to revive it. For that, he is going to need the blood of virgins…

I’m going to point out immediately that I saw a dubbed, pan-and-scanned copy of this movie. I feel the need to point this out because I couldn’t help but notice that on IMDB, this is one of Naschy’s more highly rated horror movies, and given the fact I thought it was one of his weaker films, I find myself wondering if there is a superior subtitled version out there that might change my mind. The print that I saw was atrociously dubbed, to be sure; some of the acting in this regard is quite awful. The pace is also very lethargic at times. I also found the score to be pretty maddening; occasionally it was effective, but often it’s missing in scenes that really need some music, and it seems to come and go randomly in other scenes. However, I did find the plot to be relatively focused for a Paul Naschy film, and I do like a few touches here and there; in particular, I appreciate that it was perceptive enough to realize that not every woman in the street that you find for use in your arcane rituals is going to prove a virgin. Some of the attack scenes are also well done. One interesting touch this time is that Naschy does not play the hero here; he usually sets it up that he plays both the monster and the hero, but here, he’s the monster and a secondary villain. All in all, it makes for a very mixed bag.

Mr. Superinvisible (1970)

aka L’inafferrabile invincibile Mr. Invisibile
Article 4337 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-15-2013
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Featuring Dean Jones, Philippe Leroy, Gastone Moschin
Country: Italy / Monaco / Spain / West Germany
What it is: Shopping Eurocart Movie

When an experimental virus is stolen by enemy spies, one of the scientists embarks on a mission to stop them. Fortunately, he’s stumbled across an invisibility potion to help him.

You could always leave it to the Italian film industry to jump on any cinematic bandwagon they thought would make a profit, so we’ve had James Bond imitations, rip-offs of THE EXORCIST, rip-offs of JAWS, etc. And from the looks of this, they even took a shot at the Disney “shopping cart” movies, and to help pull it off, they turned to an alumnus of the form; namely, Dean Jones of THE LOVE BUG fame. I even remember the ads for this one on TV, where they were trying their damnedest to make it look like a real Disney film. The ads didn’t fool me back then, and the movie itself is desperate, loud, clogged with badly-timed slapstick, and quite embarrassing. In fact, the only thing I liked about the movie was a comic idea that would have been pretty amusing had it been done well, and that was the concept of having the invisible man show up at a seance. I’m assuming the movie must have been something of a failure, as it didn’t seem to lead to a whole slew of imitations; no, we were spared a spate of “spaghetti cart” movies. Two of my favorite aspects of the Disney movies are definitely lacking here; the special effects are singularly lame, and the movie is badly lacking in star power that made the Disney movies more fun … and having the English dubbing feature a man doing a Peter Lorre impression doesn’t quite compensate for it.

Melodie der Welt (1929)

aka Melody of the World
Article 4279 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-2-2013
Directed by Walter Ruttmann
Featuring Ivan Koval-Samborsky, Renee Stobrawa, Grace Chiang
Country: Germany
What it is: Abstract documentary

A visual and musical symphony is composed about the universalities of human existence around the glove.

Much of what I’ve been watching lately have been listings from Walt Lee’s Reference Guide to Fantastic Films, and it’s one of the first books I’ve encountered that includes a lot of abstract films, the argument being that abstraction is to some extent borderline fantasy. He includes this film because there are a few scenes of abstract shapes, and I think that means the shots at the beginning and end of the movie that are supposed to emulate looking at the planets in outer space. If so, then you should know that these scenes are very short, and that makes the film extremely marginal in terms of its fantastic content at best.

Still, I have a real admiration for this audacious film. If any film I’ve seen could be said to be about everything, this might be the one. It covers a plethora of human experiences, with scenes from around the globe juxtaposed with each other showing how universal many of these experiences are. It’s structured like a piece of music, and much of the soundtrack is music in the conventional sense. However, it will occasionally include ambient sounds and dialogue used in musical ways as well. The juxtaposition of images is often fascinating and witty, flowing from one them to the next, and even without the juxtaposition, some of the scenes are very interesting to watch. There are a few recurring characters to tie the whole thing together, though that’s a far cry from saying that this movie really has a plot. For an abstract movie, it’s a bit on the long side (it’s forty-eight minutes long), but it managed to do a very good job of holding my attention.

Midvinterblot (1946)

aka The Sacrifice
Article 4242 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-4-2013
Directed by Gosta Werner
Featuring Gunnar Bjornstrand, Henrik Schildt, Yngve Nordwall
Country: Sweden
What it is: Abstract horror

In ancient Sweden, a human sacrifice is performed in the dead of winter to bring the sun out.

The above plot description does not just cover the beginning of the movie; it is, in fact, the entire plot of this short. And before you level any accusations of me engaging in plot spoilers, I need to say that the narrator pretty much tells us all of that information in the opening scenes. This makes me suspect that it isn’t the plot that is of primary importance here; the plot’s existence is merely a platform from which the movie hangs its imagery. This would work just fine if the imagery was engaging and hypnotic enough to be a source of fascination in and of itself. Unfortunately, it is only sporadically so; the shots of the various faces waiting for the sacrifice is the best thing here; the rest of the imagery (the shots of the wintry landscape, the scenes of blood being spattered on the various characters) is disappointing, especially when you realize that the short isn’t going to take you anywhere beyond the plot description. The music is also predictable and sometimes a little distracting; some scenes would work better in silence. Perhaps it’s not surprising to discover that this is someone’s first movie; I’ve not seen any of the other works of Gosta Werner, but I hope this one turned out to be a stepping stone to better things.

The Mechanical Handy Man (1937)

Article 4237 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-28-2013
Director unknown
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Animated robot saga

Oswald the rabbit and his pals (a stupid rooster and a dachshund on wheels) offer to demonstrate their new invention, a mechanical handy man, to a dubious farmer by having the handy man milk his cow. However, the mechanical man only succeeds in terrifying the cow and chaos ensues.

This rather interesting animated cartoon about a robot falls squarely into the “technology runs amok” category. Once you see the mechanical handy man in action, you’ll be squarely on the side of the cow, as the handy man’s grip is so strong it causes the corn on the corncobs to pop, and his method of accosting the cow (yanking on its tail) is hardly inviting. The handy man’s roughness is actually a bit disturbing, and it gives this short an unexpected (and possibly unintentional) darkness. One other odd aspect is that the mechanical handy man is not shaped like a man; it looks like a mechanical ostrich. I suspect that this latter touch may be a result of the fact that the short was written by animator Charles R. Bowers, whose own stop-motion shorts often featured metallic birds. All in all, I found this to be an amusing short, though the dark undercurrent may leave one feeling a bit queasy.

The Magic Beans (1939)

Article 4230 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-16-2013
Directed by Lester Kline
Voice cast unknown
Country: US
What it is: Cartoon fairy tale pastiche

Jack trades the family cow for a handful of Mexican jumping beans that grow into a giant beanstalk.

This cartoon sat on my hunt list for years and almost ended up on my “ones that got away” list, but I finally found a copy. I’m not quite sure what to make of it; it doesn’t quite work and it’s somewhat off-kilter. The humor feels rather self-conscious, even when it makes an unexpected turn into Tex Avery-style humor at the very end. Still, it manages to give off an interesting vibe that is somewhat unlike that I get from the other cartoon studios of the period (this one is from Walter Lantz, by the way). On a side note, and bearing in mind the cartoon I covered yesterday, I did find it interesting that Jack and his mother were anthropomorphic mice; given that tidbit of information, you should be able to figure out what the giant is going to be.