The Magic Dice (1905)

aka The Crystal Casket, Le Phenix
Article 4633 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-18-2014
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Magic short

A magician performs magic with giant dice.

Apparently, this is only a fragment of the complete film, and usually that means that I wouldn’t bother with it. However, given that it appears to be a somewhat plotless magic film, it’s not like there’s a lot of story missing; the missing footage would probably have consisted of more magic. I don’t know how long the entire short was, but the fragment is fairly entertaining; it looks like it would have been one of the better films of this type from Melies.

Mazes and Monsters (1982)

Article 4630 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-14-2014
Directed by Steven Hilliard Stern
Featuring Tom Hanks, Wendy Crawson, David Wallace
Country: USA
What it is: Cautionary (?) drama

A group of college students who engage in role playing games decide to use some local caverns for live-action play. One of the people loses touch with reality and becomes the character he was playing.

There’s a scene here near the end of the movie where the mother of the student that goes crazy tells the other players of the game that she doesn’t hold them responsible for what happened to her son. However, I’m not sure whether she is speaking merely for herself or the movie in general. This movie has a 4.1 rating on IMDB as of this writing, and though the movie is heavily flawed (it’s indifferently directed, many false notes are struck, and some of the dialogue is quite bad) it does have its fleeting moments. Still, I don’t think that it’s just the quality of the movie that’s at issue here; I think that’s the reaction to the perceived message of the movie, which is that these role-playing games are dangerous destroyers of our youth, driving them crazy and sending them around the bend. Now I don’t know if that message is intentional or not, but I do know that the end of the movie left me with the feeling that it was made by those who do not like or approve of these games. I do know this much; if I were to have made a movie on the same subject, I would have made it a comedy, because as a drama it comes across as silly and unconvincing. The scenes at the beginning where we meet the characters and their parents in particular feel like a parade of child/parent conflict cliches, and whenever the movie starts dealing with the various character’s personal problems, it comes across as phony and facile. In other words, as propaganda, it just doesn’t convincingly sell its subject. As for the movie’s fantastic content, the very game under discussion provides at least a little of that, though this is augmented by the fact that there are scenes where we see the hallucinatory fantasy world of the main character, and the theme of madness is there as well. Still, I suspect those that love the worlds of the fantastic will be the ones who like this movie the least.

Mysteries from Beyond Earth (1975)

Article 4616 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-29-2014
Directed by George Gale
Featuring Lawrence Dobkin
Country: USA
What it is: UFO paranormal science smorgasbord

What is the truth about UFOs? What does it have to do with Atlantis? or Witches? or Bigfoot? or….

Here’s another foray into the world of unexplained phenomena, and I’m beginning to wonder just how many documentaries were made on this subject during the seventies; it seems almost as if every six months or so, another pops up on my list. It’s no surprise that this one covers a lot of the same ground that many of the other movies of this ilk have covered, but it’s also no surprise that it occasionally wanders into areas that the other movies haven’t touched. Still, this one’s insistence on wandering all over the spectrum (on top of UFOS, we get Bigfoot, witches, Kirlian photography, auras, the hollow earth theory, cloning, the Bermuda triangle, black masses, black holes, haunted houses, etc.) that it reminds me of AMAZING WORLD OF GHOSTS; to its credit, this movie doesn’t come across as unfocused as that one was, though it comes close. In the end, when a movie like this ranges this far and wide with its subject matter, it’s very difficult to pin down any particular point or purpose to the project, unless all it’s trying to tell us is that lots of bizarre unexplained stuff going on. This one got very boring quickly, and the moment I found most interesting was at least partially due to the outlandishness of the theory presented: to wit, that the various Bigfoot/Sasquatch creatures might be test subjects dropped off by flying saucers to see if they could survive on this world.

Microwave Massacre (1983)

Article 4615 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-28-2014
Directed by Wayne Berwick
Featuring Jackie Vernon, Loren Schein, Al Troupe
Country: USA
What it is: Exploitation horror comedy

A construction worker flips out due to his wife’s obsession with gourmet dishes and kills her. He dismembers the body and hides it in the freezer. He ends up eating one of her hands in a fit of hunger and decides he likes the taste…

If the main image for this movie on IMDB is of any indication, this is one of those movies that eventually tried to market itself to the camp audience, billing itself as “The Worst Horror Movie of All Time”. It’s not. It’s just a cheap, lame, tacky low-budget comedy with horror and sexploitation elements tossed into the mix, and I don’t think the real “Worst Horror Movie of All Time” would aspire that low. Oh, there’s the odd joke here and there that works (which is more than I can say for some other comedies), but most of the jokes are either ones that would have been funnier if they had been handled better, or ones that simply never had a chance to begin with. There’s lots of pointless and gratuitous nudity as well, and it is a little weird to hear Jackie Vernon (who is probably most famous for having given voice to Frosty the Snowman in a couple of Christmas specials) in these circumstances. Probably the campiest element of the film is one of the hugest microwave ovens I’ve ever seen, one which doesn’t even turn off when you open the door. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, but I will give it this much; it’s better than the soft-core remake of that movie known as PLEASE DON’T EAT MY MOTHER.

Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973)

Article 4614 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-27-2014
Directed by Christopher Speeth
Featuring Janine Carazo, Jerome Dempsey, Daniel Dietrich
Country: USA
What it is: A walk through a strange world

A family takes up employment at a carnival, where they encounter murder, mayhem, madness and cannibalism.

There’s the basic outline of a plot around which this movie is built, but this is one of those movies where the plot is of no importance. What matters in this movie is the disorienting sense of random madness that permeates every moment. It hovers in a strange grey area located somewhere on the edges of such movies as THE FUNHOUSE, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, RAW MEAT and THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES?!!, done at what obviously must have been a tiny budget and served up as a cross between a horror movie and an abstract art film. There are scenes of the ghoulish residents of the carnival watching silent films; I recognize both THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME there. Bizarre set dressing, weird camera angles, unsettling characters… the movie leaves you with the sense of trying to recall a half-remembered fever nightmare. I’m not sure I can really say the movie is scary (it’s way too fragmented for that), but it leaves a mad residue in its wake. The only recognizable name in the cast for me was Herve Villechaize, but the character you’ll probably most remember is the affected and creepy Mr. Blood played by Jerome Dempsey.

Moonwolf (1959)

aka Zuruck aus dem Weltall, …und immer ruft das Herz
Article 4593 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-30-2014
Directed by Georges Friendland
Featuring Anneli Sauli, Carl Mohner, Helmut Schmid
Country: Finland / West Germany
What it is: Love story

A scientist is reluctant to send his pet dog (which is really a wolf) into outer space as part of an experiment. He tells the story of his relationship with the animal.

IMDB (as well as various other sources) classify this movie as Sci-Fi, and, insofar as the plot involves sending a wolf into outer space, I suppose it is. From a story perspective, however, this event serves as little more than a plot device; its purpose is to put the animal in a certain location so that the scientist finds himself resolving a romantic triangle plot that is the real center of the movie. And, like most romantic triangle plots, this one is pretty mundane, and anyone hoping to see actual shots of the dog in outer space will be sorely disappointed; the action in the movie remains stubbornly earthbound. There’s a certain curiosity value to the fact that most of the movie is set in Lapland and shot in location there, but it’s certainly not enough to save this movie from the doldrums. This one is quite disappointing.

Macabre (1980)

MACABRE (1980)
aka Macabro, Frozen Terror
Article 4582 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Lamberto Bava
Featuring Bernice Stegers, Stanko Molnar, Veronica Zinny
Country: Italy
What it is: Horror thriller

An adulterous married woman spends a year in an institution after having been traumatized by a car accident in which her lover was decapitated. After being released, she moves into the apartment where she was meeting her lover, and continues with the affair…

This is the directorial feature film debut for Mario Bava’s son, Lamberto Bava. He does a decent job here, but he’s hardly the stylist his father was, and the movie suffers from some pacing problems; still, it is a solid debut. If you read the plot description above, you’re probably suspecting that there’s something distinctly unhealthy (to use the mild euphemism) going on in this movie, and you’d be right; however, I won’t go into any details because the whole thrust of the movie is to bring those details to light. Suffice it to say that it all has something to do with what is locked in the freezer door of a refrigerator. Incidentally, the woman is not the only character involved in sick behavior here; her daughter is proof that the nuts don’t fall too far from the tree, and you’ll see how twisted she is during the first few minutes of the movie. The movie is supposedly based on a true story that actually did take place in New Orleans (where the movie is set), and except for one last-second supernatural nod, I suppose it could have happened. But as for that supernatural nod, it can be either seen as pretty silly or weirdly logical depending on your mood; I could go either way with it myself.