Messiah of Evil (1973)

MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973)
aka DEAD PEOPLE
Article 2143 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-27-2007
Posting Date: 6-25-2007
Directed by William Huyck and Gloria Katz
Featuring Michael Greer, Marianna Hill, Joy Bang

A woman arrives at a small seaside town to visit her artist father, who is missing from his home. She searches the town for him, and hooks up with some tourists researching an old town legend about a blood moon. They begin to learn the awful secret of the town, a secret that has turned the town’s dead into flesh-eating zombies.

The plot of this low-budget zombie flick is a bit muddled; I’m not sure what the woman’s loss of the ability to feel sensations has to do with the plot (or the significance of her spitting up insects), or what role her father really plays in the proceedings. Nevertheless, this is an effective little horror movie despite those problems, with three memorable and well-staged attack sequences (in a filling station, a grocery store and a movie theater) and the occasional display of a wicked sense of humor (my favorites – a line about stamps, a line about Wagner, and the title on the marquee of the movie theater). Somehow, it all has to do with a stranger (who survived the Donner Party) who appeared in town one hundred years ago. All in all, a fairly decent horror movie which would be rereleased under several titles over the years; its distributors got into trouble at one point for copping the ad line from Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD. The movie also features Royal Dano (who would appear a few years later in another movie about the Donner party, DONNER PASS: THE ROAD TO SURVIVAL) and Elisha Cook Jr., who shows up just long enough to die a horrible death (wait a minute – there’s an echo in here). Writers and directors William Huyck and Gloria Katz were associates of George Lucas (they co-wrote AMERICAN GRAFFITI with him) and also worked on the sequel to that movie as well as INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM and the disastrous HOWARD THE DUCK.

 

The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima (1952)

THE MIRACLE OF OUR LADY OF FATIMA (1952)
Article 2124 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-8-2007
Posting Date: 6-6-2007
Directed by John Brahm
Featuring Susan Whitney, Sherry Jackson, Carl Milletaire

Three young children encounter a vision of a lovely lady in a cloud just outside of Fatima. People gather from all around when it is rumored that the children have seen the Virgin Mary.

During the forties, movies with religious themes became very common, and one of the surprising things I discovered was that most of them were quite good, thanks mostly due to the excellence of the scripts, which took the trouble to develop memorable characters to undergo these experiences. The trend continued into the fifties, but the quality went downhill; characters lost their dimension, and the stories become simplistic. To illustrate my point, compare this movie with THE SONG OF BERNADETTE from a decade earlier; whereas that movie gave us a startling array of memorable and complex characters, this one settles for far less. Yes, Gilbert Roland’s likable but cynical hero (he protects the children even if he doesn’t believe in their vision) is fun, but he’s pretty much meant to serve one dramatic purpose which you should see coming long before the movie ends. The villainous administrator is far too close to being Snidely Whiplash for a movie that purports to be realistic, and of the three children, the two young ones are differentiated only by their sexes, while the older one’s main function is to tug on our heartstrings by having people be mean to her so she can break into tears every ten minutes or so. If THE SONG OF BERNADETTE was true drama, this is very much simple melodrama. Still, some of the spectacle is good, I like the fact that the vision is never clearly seen, and Max Steiner’s score is lovely. The acting in the crowd scenes is fairly lame. The director of this one also gave us THE LODGER and HANGOVER SQUARE, and personally, I prefer his work when he’s dealing with serial killers.

 

Matango (1963)

MATANGO (1963)
aka ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE
Article 2122 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-6-2007
Posting Date: 6-4-2007
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Featuring Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno, Hiroshi Koizumi

A group of shipwrecked people are stranded on an island with little hope of rescue and with little food. The most common foodstuff on the island are mushrooms, which turn out to have a dangerous and grotesque effect on those that eat them.

This much-maligned Japanese horror movie is looked down upon by those that mistake a silly title for a silly movie. However, even if in its dubbed state, it’s an original and unsettling movie, eerie and frightening, and with some dark messages about human nature. For years I was only familiar with it through the dubbed version, but for this review, i got a chance to see the Japanese language version with subtitles and a beautifully restored and letterboxed print, and it simply makes it that much stronger. Probably the two most surprising things about watching this version were a) discovering that the rather silly “La La La La La” song actually had those lyrics in the original version, and b) that, if the subtitling is truer to the actually dialogue than the dubbing was, the final revelation is significantly different, and possibly more unsettling. It’s very effective and quite satisfying, but I always have problems with one sequence; the sequence where the castaways first encounter one of the inhabitants of the island ends both abruptly and ambiguously, and I wish it had ended a little more clearly.

 

Missile Base at Taniak (1966)

MISSILE BASE AT TANIAK (1966)
Feature Version of the serial CANADIAN MOUNTIES VS. ATOMIC INVADERS
Article 2114 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-29-2006
Posting Date: 5-27-2007
Directed by Franklin Adreon
Featuring William Henry, Susan Morrow, Arthur Space

A mountie is on the trail of foreign agents intent on building a missile base which would destroy American cities in preparation for an upcoming invasion.

On a purely technical level, the later serials were easier to adapt into features, largely because the episodes were so short to begin with that once you removed the beginning and closing credits and duplicate cliffhanger footage, you were probably fairly close to feature length already. As a result, this one doesn’t jerk as quickly from one sequence to another, and has a better flow. The downside is that the later serials were usually pretty tired and dull to begin with, and the feature version can’t really hide that. As I did with the serial itself, I found the first half more interesting, as it dealt with the mountie joining an expedition of farmers in the Yukon Territory; simply by having most of the action in snow-covered settings, and by having a group of other people in the mix (other than just the good guys and bad guys), it upped the novelty value of the proceedings. The second half is a bore, and consists almost entirely of one chase after another. The fantastic content is non-existent; there are no gizmos, the missile base never gets built (which, considering they only had three men on the job, is no surprise), and, quite frankly, the spies’ plot never gets off the ground. Forgettable.

 

Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956)

MEET ME IN LAS VEGAS (1956)
Article 2091 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-6-2006
Posting Date: 5-4-2007
Directed by Roy Rowland
Featuring Dan Dailey, Cyd Charisse, Agnes Moorehead

A cowboy with a bad losing streak comes to Vegas, and he wins for the first time when he grabs the hand of a ballerina for luck. He soon discovers that she is his lucky charm, and that he can’t lose when he’s holding her hand. They begin to fall in love.

This slight musical with fantasy overtones (the amazing good luck when they hold hands is the fantastic element) works well enough for the first half of the movie, thanks to a likable cast and some truly colorful characters (in particular, the Hungarian blackjack dealer played by Oskar Karlweis who can’t stand to see the cowboy gamble away his money is a favorite). but it starts to wear thin in the second half, partially due to some odd musical choices (the Sleeping Beauty ballet sequence feels out of place, in particular) and to the fact that the story takes some fairly glum twists towards the end. There are some really fun moments, though; I especially like Dan Dailey’s duet with Mitsuko Sawamura. It has a fun little cameo from Frank Sinatra, and another from Peter Lorre (his sole line is “Hit me, you creep!”). Mel Welles has an uncredited appearance in here as well.

 

The Mystic Swing (1900)

THE MYSTIC SWING (1900)
Article 2090 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-5-2006
Posting Date: 5-3-2007
Directed by Edwin S. Porter
Cast unknown

Two magicians have a competition in making women appear and disappear on a swing.

There’s not much of a plot to speak of in this early Melies imitation. One magician makes ’em appear, the other makes ’em go away. That is, until a skeleton appears and foils the abilities of one of the magicians. That’s about it. One question; given that the skeleton steals the show here, why doesn’t he take a bow with the others at the end?

 

The Mysterious Retort (1906)

THE MYSTERIOUS RETORT (1906)
aka ALCHIMISTE PARAFARAGAMUS OU LO CORNUE INFERNALE
Article 2089 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-4-2006
Posting Date: 5-2-2007
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies

An alchemist is tormented by a succession of creatures that emerge from a glass vial.

I’m not sure where the retort comes into play in this Melies fantasy, but I suppose it’s mysterious enough. The bizarre snake that emerges first steals the show here, as it grows and shrinks in size before transforming into a tumbling imp. There may be a plot here, but it’s not much of one. Overall, it’s fun enough, but it’s fairly minor Melies.

PS: I’ve been informed that the glass vial is called a retort. That explains the title. You learn something new every day.