Moon of the Wolf (1972)

Article 3816 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-15-2012
Posting Date: 1-25-2012
Directed by Daniel Petrie
Featuring David Janssen, Bradford Dillman, Barbara Rush
Country: USA
What it is: Made-for-TV lycanthropy

When a young girl is found dead in the bayou, the belief is that wild dogs were responsible. However, an autopsy reveals that the killer was no wolf. And when more deaths occur, it becomes apparent that the killer has superhuman strength. And why does a dying old man keep referring to a loup-garou?

I really didn’t watch many of the made-for-TV horror movies when I was a kid in the seventies, but this is one I caught… at least for a while, until I lost interest in it. I’d been disappointed because the ads made it look like a horror movie when it was really some sort of a mystery, and for many years, I carried the belief that this was one of those movies which pretended to have fantastic content and didn’t. The problem was that I didn’t wait long enough, and having watched it now, I realize that I was dead wrong; yes, the first half plays more like a mystery, but ultimately it doesn’t cop out of the horror genre. Of course, as a kid, I expected the monsters to be trotted out early and often; as an adult, I’m more patient, and I found myself enjoying the movie more than I did as a kid, at least partially because the script is reasonably well-written and it’s well acted. In fact, it’s the horror content that is the most disappointing thing here; the werewolf makeup is not very impressive, and the climax is fairly unmemorable. For me, the most disappointing thing was the way it trots out the “loup-garou” word and plays all mysterious about it before finally explaining what it stands for; I knew what it stood for immediately and was annoyed that no one else in the movie knew, but that may be an individual reaction. All in all, it was watchable enough, but merely okay.


Meteor (1979)

METEOR (1979)
Article 3813 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-12-2012
Posting Date: 1-22-2012
Directed by Ronald Neame
Featuring Sean Connery, Natalie Wood, Karl Malden
Country: USA
What it is: Disaster movie

A comet hits an asteroid, causing a huge piece of it to break off and head on a collision course with Earth. The only way to keep the meteor from hitting the Earth is to use nuclear weapons aboard satellites that aren’t legally supposed to be there. Can the Americans and Russians come to an agreement to save the world?

I went into this one expecting the worst, but I found myself enjoying it a lot more than I expected. Which is not to say that it doesn’t have its problems; for example, Connery’s character has a very bad case of Mamet Dammit (i.e. painfully bad cussing), and the movie occasionally gives into its worst melodramatic impulses, with the result that certain scenes are truly embarrassing. Yet I like the fact that, in comparison with other disaster movies, it keeps the soap opera aspects in check; they’re there, but kept to a minimum. I also actively enjoyed the game of diplomatic chess between the Russians and the Americans in which they jockey for a way for each side to save face to ensure cooperation. I also like the fact that the movie was aware of the dramatic problem of having the big climax involve a lot of waiting for something to happen, and got around that by dovetailing a secondary crisis to keep the movie from getting too tedious towards the end. Still, it does have a major problem in that some of its special effects aren’t up to snuff; the splinter meteors look more like glowing lights, and, despite the wealth of explosions, the climax doesn’t have a whole lot of bang to it. But as far as movies go, I’ve seen a lot worse… and some of it very recently.

Megaforce (1982)

Article 3812 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-11-2012
Posting Date: 1-21-2012
Directed by Hal Needham
Featuring Barry Bostwick, Michael Beck, Persis Khambatta
Country: USA / Hong Kong
What it is: Loud and busy

A military group called Megaforce uses the most advanced technology the free world can muster to combat evil. This means they can blow lots of things up. They are sent to catch a band of revolutionaries who are also good at blowing things up. Unfortunately, their mission backfires when they are left stranded in a foreign country because their actions (which involved blowing things up) have created an international incident. Can they escape by blowing more things up?

Director Hal Needham was one of the highest paid stuntmen of Hollywood before he turned to directing. I was dragged to see his first directorial effort SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT by a friend who insisted it was one of the greatest and funniest movies ever made. I was very far from impressed (and still wonder if there is a cult out there who thinks that hearing Jackie Gleason cuss up a blue streak is the epitome of great comedy). Sorting the ratings on IMDB, that appears to be Needham’s best movie; so what am I going to think of this one, which ranks as his worst? Well, let me try to recreate the experience. Please imagine a soulless eighties action soundtrack playing underneath all of this.

Opening credits. Bad comedy. Corny comedy. Explosions. More explosions. More bad comedy. Stunts. Bad comedy. Romance. Comic inventor character type. Stunts. Explosions. More explosions. More bad comedy. Stunts. Explosions. Explosions. Stunts. More bad comedy. Catchphrase. Stunts. Unbelievable final stunt. Obligatory hint that a sequel is forthcoming. Ending credits.

Final notes – Megaforce’s advanced technology is the fantastic content. No sequel. End of story.

The Magus (1968)

THE MAGUS (1968)
Article 3810 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-9-2012
Posting Date: 1-19-2012
Directed by Guy Green
Featuring Michael Caine, Anthony Quinn, Candice Bergen
Country: UK
What it is: Fantasy/drama

An unhappy English schoolteacher who has come to Greece meets a mysterious man on an island, possibly a magician of sorts. The man takes the teacher on a journey of understanding through the use of a series of role-playing games.

I’ve not read the novel on which this movie is based, but, based on what I see here, I would venture to say it’s one of those that cannot be easily translated into another medium. The ambiguous nature of the “magic” of the title character makes the fantastic content here fairly elusive, but this isn’t the first time we’ve been in territory like this. This is one of those movies that doesn’t parse out easily (if at all), so I can’t say at this point whether this movie will call me back for more exploration or whether it might not even make me search out the novel on which it is based. I can say this much though; on a certain gut level, I sense that this movie more or less hangs together, and there are some very memorable scenes. Perhaps the most powerful of these scenes involves a flashback to World War II and tells the story of the title character as a younger man forced to serve as a mayor of the small town during the German occupation, and who must make a horrible decision when some members of the resistance kill some German soldiers, setting in motion a nightmarish sequence of events. In the end, you’re never quite sure what was real and what was fantasy and illusion, but, to the movie’s credit, it never really made me feel as if it would be explained. The acting is very good throughout, with Candice Bergen showing a vast improvement over her work in THE DAY THE FISH CAME OUT, which also took place on a Greek island.

Magic Serpent (1966)

aka Kairyu daikessen
Article 3809 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-8-2012
Posting Date: 1-18-2012
Directed by Tetsuya Yamauchi
Featuring Hiroki Matsukata, Tomoko Ogawa, Ryutaro Otomo
Country: Japan
What it is: Fantasy with monsters

A usurper combines forces with a traitorous sorcerer to murder the ruler and take his throne. The ruler’s son survives, and is trained by a master magician to seek revenge.

This Japanese giant monster movie is more in the vein of the Majin movies than with the Godzilla/Gamera movies; it’s a period piece in which the monsters play roles in the final battle between good and evil. We have a giant dragon, a giant frog, and a giant spider before it’s all through; the giant dragon also appears early in the movie. Still, that doesn’t mean the fantastic content is restricted to either end of the movie; there’s a lot of content involving magic, including a rather memorable sequence involving swirling doors. The special effects aren’t always quite up to par, but the movie moves along at a nice clip, there’s an interesting array of characters, and overall I found it quite enjoyable. I’m sure Godzilla fans will recognize the dragon’s roar.

El monstruo de los volcanes (1963)

aka Monster of the Volcano
Article 3806 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-5-2012
Posting Date: 1-15-2012
Directed by Jaime Salvador
Featuring Joaquin Cordero, Ana Berthe Lepe, Andres Soler
Country: Mexico
What it is: Mexican Yeti story

The inhabitants of a Mexican village are being terrorized by a yeti from the nearby volcano. And it appears that the yeti has his sights set on one of the women of the town for his mate.

You know a monster isn’t scary when the nickname that first comes to mind when you see him is “Fluffy”. But I’ve seen Fluffy the Mexican Yeti before; he also appeared in EL TERRIBLE GIGANTE DE LAS NIEVES, where he was equally non-scary. My copy of this one is in unsubtitled Spanish, but fortunately, one of my books gives a fairly decent plot description explaining the Yeti’s desire for the daughter of a local professor. However, it doesn’t explain the prominent subplot about four men who are working for a shadowy villain who is after a medallion of sorts. This part of the story doesn’t dovetail with the story of Fluffy until the end of the movie. Unfortunately, the parts with the human villains doesn’t look all that interesting and diverts the movie from the monster, whose innate huggability makes him the most interesting thing here as far as I can tell.

Mara of the Wilderness (1965)

Article 3800 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-30-2011
Posting Date: 1-9-2012
Directed by Frank McDonald
Featuring Adam West, Lori Saunders, Lelia Walsh
Country: USA
What it is: Child raised by wolves yarn

When her parents are killed by a bear in the Alaskan wilderness, a young girl is raised by wild wolves. Years later, her presence is discovered by a trapper intent on capturing here. Can a government man save her?

At one point the trapper says to his Indian guide “Friday, you’ve got an apology coming. You’d get it if you weren’t an Indian.” This is the line that really convinced that the movie was trying way too hard to make the villain villainous. On top of the racism, the trapper is irresponsible in capturing animals (he uses traps that may kill the animals he captures under the excuse that a few dead animals don’t matter), maltreats and teases the animals he does capture, fails to maintain his camp safely, and that’s even before he tries to resort to murder; he’d probably have sexual designs on the wild woman as well if the movie wasn’t trying to keep on the right side of “family friendly” entertainment. Genre-wise, this only qualifies for the admittedly marginal “human raised by animal theme”, and most of the savagery comes from the trapper, though admittedly the bear is the only one that actually kills anything. All in all, this one is of minimal interest unless you’re a fan of Lori Saunders’s legs.

Oh, and on a side note, I notice that the trapper managed to capture two raccoons on his Alaskan hunt. Seems like a long way to go to me; I could set up traps on the deck outside my apartment and probably have better luck.