The Mechanical Man (1921)

The Mechanical Man (1921)
aka L’uomo meccanio
Article 5502 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-27-2017
Directed by Andre Deed
Featuring Giulia Costa, Andre Deed, Valentina Frascaroli
Country: Italy
What it is: Comic thriller

An evil woman has stolen plans for a mechanical man, which she builds and uses for a wave of criminal activity. Can she be defeated?

Only about a third of this film is extant, and if it hadn’t been on my suggestion list, I might have chosen not to cover it. However, since it was on my suggestion list (and since the remaining footage does feature a wealth of mechanical man action), I did, and I’m glad I did. The opening of my print of the movie features a complete rundown of the plot, which helps in following the thing, since the remaining footage jumps right in the middle of the action. It doesn’t look like I really missed a lot; the first two-thirds of the movie seems to use the plans for a mechanical man as a Gizmo Maguffin for a story about criminals trying to get hold of the plans (albeit one with a comic sensibility), which would be the dull part of the movie. However, once the mechanical man is made, we have plenty of robot fun. Less fun is the comic relief character, who mostly seems to engage in unmemorable slapstick antics. However, the highlight of the movie is comic in nature; the mechanical man shows up at a party where it is mistaken for a man in costume. The actual battle between the two mechanical men is a bit disappointing, as they look more like the they’re dancing rather than fighting. Still, for a movie missing two-thirds of its footage, the extant material is entertaining enough to warrant a look.

Magic Land of Mother Goose (1967)

Magic Land of Mother Goose (1967)
Article 5464 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-28-2017
Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis
Featuring Roy Huston, David Hammond, Judith Snow
Country: USA
What it is: For when your kids have been REALLY bad

Merlin the Magician visits characters from “Stories from Mother Goose” and using magic, helps them with their personal problems.

Here’s a practical joke to play on your friends. Dare them to watch the most horrible, unwatchable movie that you know. Hint that it’s directed by goremeister Herschell Gordon Lewis. If they’re familiar with the name, they’ll probably not want to seem like wimps and take you up on the challenge. Then show them this movie. The only downside to this practical joke is that you’d have to watch it with them.

This is my nominee for the worst movie ever made. When I screened it for a bad movie group I once belonged to, we couldn’t watch it one sitting and had to space it out over six nights, meaning we could only handle about ten minutes of it at a time. It is for all practical purposes the equivalent of a photographed stage play of a high school children’s production; the only reason it doesn’t quite qualify is the cast is made up entirely of adults and there are a handful of bare-bones special effects that I’m sure Melies had already mastered before the turn of the last century. It seems to be mostly an excuse for a stage magician to ply his trade; practically every plot development ends with a magic trick. It’s static as hell and looks like it may have been shot in less than one day. It’s the epitome of a snoozefest, and the movie gives a whole slew of clues to this.

1) Notice that during the introduction by Santa, he immediately falls asleep. That is a warning.

2) Old King Cole says that “nothing ever happens around here”. He’s not exaggerating.

3) The rag doll is asleep when she is first introduced. No movie this dull should have this much sleeping in it

4) When Sleeping Beauty shows up, she’s distraught because she’s NOT asleep. She knows the best way to handle this movie.

5) The witch’s main spell on the other characters is to freeze them in their tracks, making them static and lifeless. Hint. Hint. Hint.

6) When the discussion turns to making Jack Spratt lose weight, the comment is made that he has “too much power”, which I take to mean as too much energy. Doesn’t it say something that this movie is seeking to reduce the amount of energy it has?

As always, remember the Merlin rule – If a movie features Merlin the Magician but not King Arthur, it probably stinks. This movie is the equivalent of skunk roadkill.

One final warning – the only thing you’re likely to remember about this movie is the rag doll’s disturbing mask; I’m surprised some slasher movie hasn’t borrowed the look.

The Monster of Camp Sunshine (1964)

The Monster of Camp Sunshine (1964)
Article 5463 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-28-2017
Directed by Ferenc Leroget
Featuring Harrison Pebbles, Deborah Spray, Sally Parfait
Country: USA
What it is: Bizarre nudie flick

Residents at a nudist camp are terrorized by a mentally challenged caretaker who becomes homicidal after drinking water polluted by chemicals.

I’ve been going through my entire DVD collection and watching everything, and occasionally I stumble across an item that qualifies as genre but never appeared on my hunt list. I’m choosing to review these. This black and white nudist film appeared on the same disc as THE BEAST THAT KILLED WOMEN, and for what it’s worth, I prefer this one. Not that this one is better made than the other movie; it’s just that while TBTKW knows just what it is (a nudist film in which the plot is inconsequential) and achieves its goal, it’s dull as dishwater, whereas this one doesn’t seem to know what it is and goes all over the board; its wild inconsistency makes it more entertaining. It starts out as a drama about two female friends, one who is trying to make the other one feel less self-conscious about her body by inviting her to a nudist camp, turns into a horror movie as the nurse is attacked by killer rats, finally turns into a full-blown nudie in the second half, and takes a turn back into horror before turning into a mind-blowing surreal comedy when the entire army is called out to do battle with a monster (an ugly dumpy guy with an axe) through the miracle of stock footage. This final sequence is one of the most jaw dropping cinematic sequences I’ve ever encountered. This seems to be the only movie made by writer/director Ferenc Leroget, but I heavily suspect this is a nom de plume; in fact, it looks like an anagram of something. At any rate, it’s a lot more unpredictable than its companion feature.

Le mariage de Babylas (1921)

aka The Marriage of Babylas
Article 5426 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-16-2017
Directed by Wladyslaw Starewicz
Featuring Nina Star
Country: France
What it is: Animated whimsy

A little girl arranges a marriage between two of her dolls (one a baby, the other a monkey), but is forced to go to bed. At midnight, the dolls come to life and deal with the arranged marriage in their own ways.

Here’s another animated work form Starewicz with a partial live-action sequence. It’s a comic piece of animation in which the monkey jilts his initial bride because he’s enamored with a doll lamp whose skirt lights up. It’s not one of his better works, but it’s amusing enough; it’s a bit on the risque side, and part of the fun of being surprised when unexpected characters come to life. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve seen from Starewicz, and this one is no exception.

Mardi Gras Massacre (1978)

Article 5415 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-5-2017
Directed by Jack Weis
Featuring Kurt Dawson, Gwen Arment, William Metzo
Country: USA
What it is: Waste of time

A psycho is sacrificing prostitutes to an Aztec god. Police investigate.

Unless you’re excited over the fact that this was shot in New Orleans, there are only two reasons I can think of that anyone might wish to see this; the nudity and the gore. It’s certainly not the perfunctory and uninspired acting, the barely-there plot, the dismal romance subplot, the lame-car-chase action finale, or the police investigation (which largely consists of policeman standing around and complaining that there are no clues). And of the nudity and gore fans, I think only the former will feel they got their money’s worth; there’s a lot of nudity here. The gore fans will feel ripped off; there are three gore sequences, but the second two are a virtual repeat of the first one. Other than that, the only point of interest is that there’s a plot twist near the end where none was expected, but that’s long after you’ve stopped caring. For my money, this movie is nearly worthless.

Madhouse (1974)

Article 5401 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-22-2017
Directed by Jim Clark
Featuring Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Robert Quarry
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Horror

A horror star who played a character named “Dr. Death” becomes convinced that the character has taken over his life and that he is committing murders.

This was Vincent Price’s follow-up to the two Dr. Phibes movies and THEATER OF BLOOD, so he had some tough acts to follow. I do have to admit that it makes a lot of sense to have him play an actor who specializes in horror films who may be “living” the part he played. It’s also fun to pepper the movie with clips from some of his earlier parts, although they’re used too often and for too long here. I just wish they had fashioned a coherent script for the idea; the one on hand is muddled, confusing and awkward. It’s also a huge disappointment as a mystery; it doesn’t take a brilliant leap of deduction to figure that Price’s character isn’t the true culprit, and I was able to spot the true culprit before the second murder. I think the movie may have been trying for a certain unsettling surreal quality, but much of it feels jarring and abrupt; it feels like one of those movies that isn’t playing by the usual set of rules, but it fails to establish which rules it IS playing by. I emerged from the movie more puzzled than intrigued. As it is, I feel there was some real promise lost in the muddle. However, it does have one great comic line about rigor mortis.

Medvezhya Svadba (1925)

aka The Marriage of the Bear
Article 5372 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-16-2017
Directed by Konstantin Eggert and Vladimir Gardin
Featuring Konstantin Eggert, Vera Malinovskaya, B. Afonin
Country: U.S.S.R.
What it is: Horrific drama

On a hunting expedition, a pregnant noblewoman is attacked by a bear. Years later, the son that was born to her and has inherited the estate has taken to stalking women while wearing a bear skin.

Here’s a title that was consigned to my “ones that got away” list many years ago, but which has recently popped up on YouTube; unfortunately, the print does not have English subtitles, and I had to seek the help of a few sketchy plot descriptions to figure out parts of the story. Visually, it’s an interesting movie at times, and it occasionally uses a rapid-fire editing technique that would be interesting to evaluate. However, two circumstances prevented me from enjoying this technique. The first is that since I was unable to read the Russian title cards, I couldn’t quite grasp the context of the scenes. Second, the copy I saw of the movie seemed to be running at a slightly accelerated speed, and the rapid-fire edits went by so quickly it was difficult to focus in on or absorb the images. The story itself is a variation on the werewolf legend, though with something more of psychological transformation rather than a physical one. This is one I may have to give another chance sometime when it has an English translation; as it is, I found the movie a little frustrating. Still, like many of the “ones that got away”, I count myself lucky that I was able to find it at all.

The Moon of Israel (1924)

aka Die Sklavenkonigin
Article 5362 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-3-2017
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Featuring Maria Corda, Adelqui Migliar, Arlette Marchal
Country: Austria / UK
What it is: Biblical epic

During the time of Moses, the son of the Egyptian pharaoh falls in love with a Hebrew slave girl. Complications arise.

The most recent Michael Curtiz movie before this one that I’d seen is NOAH’S ARK from 1928, and from these two movies, I get the sense that he had a penchant during the twenties of adapting Biblical stories with appended elaborate subplots and climaxes that involved lots of extras getting wet. The title refers to the title of the Hebrew slave girl, and most of the movie is concerned with the meeting between her and the pharaoh’s son, and their subsequent romance. There’s a fair amount of spectacle here; outside of the parting of the Red Sea sequence (which is very well done), there’s a scene where the Hebrew slave girl calls on Jehovah to match the power of the Egyptian gods. There are also plenty of impressive crowd scenes. It’s a decent movie, though it’s perhaps very slow to get going; it’s nearly three-quarters over before Moses really swings into action. However, one circumstance added a rather comic touch to my viewing of the movie. My print has title cards in French, but a quick check of my subtitle options indicated that an English translation existed on the print. The latter helped a lot, but it became obvious early on whoever did the translation was not an accomplished linguist; many of the translations felt like they were done on a “word by word” basis by someone who had no idea of how English sentences are structured, and many of the subtitles were comically incoherent.

Mare Nostrum (1926)

Article 5361 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-2-2017
Directed by Rex Ingram
Featuring Apollon Uni, Alex Nova, Kada-Abd-el-Kader
Country: USA
What it is: War drama

During World War I, a married sea captain from Barcelona falls in love with a beautiful woman (who resembles a picture of the sea goddess Amphitrite) while on a visit to Naples. He discovers that she is a German spy and becomes enmeshed in espionage.

The title refers to an ancient phrase for the Mediterranean Sea (where much of the action takes place) as well as the name of the ship of the sea captain. If the story sounds like a doomed romance, that’s because it is. It is, however, a very good one, and it has a number of memorable sequences. My favorites usually involve a German U-Boat prowling through the water in search of ships to sink, but there’s also a memorable chase scene through the streets of Versailles; the movie was shot in European locations. The fantastic elements aren’t a major part of the story, but they are striking and effective. There are two scenes featuring the sea goddess Amphitrite in action; her appearances bookend the movie. There’s also the momentary appearance of a ghost of a certain character (probably a hallucination of guilt), and the appearance of Death whose grotesque hand wipes a ship’s name off of a list. Despite these touches, the movie is primarily a war romance drama.

Malefices (1962)

aka Where the Truth Lies
Article 5355 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-25-2017
Directed by Henri Decoin
Featuring Juliette Greco, Jean-Marc Bory, Liselotte Pulver
Country: France
What it is: Thriller

A female African explorer falls in love with a married veterinarian who comes to treat her jaguar. When he refuses to accompany her back to Africa, his wife suddenly takes ill. Is it possible the explorer is practicing voodoo?

This is another movie that has been rescued from my “ones that got away” list; it became available in France and I was able to order an import DVD. That being the case, I suspected there would be no English dubbing or subtitles, so I armed myself with a plot description so I could follow the movie at least somewhat; nevertheless, I do have to point out that my ability to judge it fairly is hampered by the language difference. I do know this much; several of my sources list the running time as 83 minutes, but my copy runs 101 minutes. Truth to tell, I’d rather have seen the 83 minutes version; at the longer length, it feels like it takes forever for the plot to get moving. Granted, it may be a lot more interesting if I understood the French dialogue, but given that its rating on IMDB is a little on the lukewarm side, I suspect that the pacing is a problem. It does have a nice twist and a memorable ending; the last 15 minutes are easily the best part of the movie. The presence of voodoo or black magic is the fantastic content, but you’ll have to see the movie yourself if you want to find out if that is real or imagined. I have to admit I was a little disappointed by this one.