Moonchild (1974)

Article 3555 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-16-2011
Posting Date: 5-9-2011
Directed by Alan Gadney
Featuring Victor Buono, John Carradine, Mark Travis
Country: USA
What it is: Bizarre horror allegory

An art student finds himself at a mission-converted-into-hotel populated by strange people who seem to know his mind. He soon finds he has been drawn into the events of a previous life, where he is on trial for his life from the Inquisition.

I’ve finally found a suitable companion piece to match with MALPERTUIS if I ever wanted to watch a double-feature of pretentious allegorical fantasies masquerading as horror movies (though, to be truthful, I was never really looking for one). The opening credits feature shots of running down a narrow brick corridor as shot by a hand-held camera while a Gregorian chant is intoned over seventies action-movie music, which is as weird as it sounds and actually gives a good idea as to the what is to follow. The movie is addicted to editing, usually at the expense of clarity, and there’s just too many nano-second flashbacks to the previous lifetime. The movie has a rating of 2.0 on IMDB, and director Alan Gadney never made another film, and neither of these facts surprise me; after all, that’s what happens when you try to masquerade art films as horror movies.

Yet, as awful as it is on certain levels, I’m not dismissing it. One rule of thumb I like to use on art movies of this sort is to ask whether it has a sense of humor, and in truth, I did find myself laughing several times, not due to its incompetence but in actual reaction to certain comic ironies. I emerged with the sense that it actual was about something, and that it actually might be worth the effort of digging it out and finding what it is. It’s helped by the fact that the acting is mostly quite good, especially from Victor Buono, who has a way of projecting meaning with everything he says and whose facial reactions can speak volumes. John Carradine has a surprisingly substantial role in this one, and he too is quite good. In fact, the only performance I didn’t like was that of Mark Travis, who plays the student, but, to be perfectly honest, he’s got a near-impossible and awkwardly written role here. In the end, despite all the pretentiousness, I found this a worthwhile movie, and perhaps it even might be more appropriately be paired with THE CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS, another movie I find worthwhile despite its awful reputation.


Marie Chantal contre Dr. Kha (1965)

aka Marie Chantal vs. Dr. Kha, The Blue Panther
Article 3551 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-12-2011
Posting Date: 5-5-2011
Directed by Claude Chabrol
Featuring Marie Laforet, Francisco Rabal, Serge Reggiani
Country: Spain / France / Italy / Morocco
What it is: Spy comedy/thriller

An adventuress/sportswoman comes into possession of a brooch called the Blue Panther, and finds herself targeted by spies intent on getting their hands on the item.

I found this one was described as something of a James Bond style spy thriller, though the description doesn’t quite fit. This is not to say that it doesn’t borrow somewhat from those movies; we have a supervillain, eccentric henchmen (my favorite is the Russian spy who takes orders from his preteen child), and a certain amount of gadgetry on hand. But the central element – a superspy hero – is not present; Marie Chantal is not a spy, but just a woman who has gotten caught up in the espionage. Furthermore, the tone is markedly different from what we’d expect in a Bond film; in fact, if this movie is aiming for anything in particular, I think it’s charm, and for what it’s worth, it does have that, for I find the movie quite charming. This is not to say that the movie is totally successful; it’s a little too murky around the edges, and it’s not quite satisfying, especially near the ending, when the escape from the fortress of the supervillain occurs with far too much ease. Still, I really like Akim Tamiroff’s supervillain, Dr. Kha, a man of such sharp intelligence that he can predict what people are going to do. The reason he is foiled by Marie Chantal is because she is unpredictable. As heroine and villain, they’re a good match, and I actually feel kind of sad the that the sequel it sets itself up for at the end never materialized.

Myra Breckinridge (1970)

Article 3523 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-13-2011
Posting Date: 4-7-2011
Directed by Michael Sarne
Featuring Mae West, John Huston, Raquel Welch
Country: USA
What it is: Campy cinematic disaster

A man gets a sex change operation, and then she joins an acting academy owned by her uncle, with the dual purpose of claiming her half of the business and destroying the traditional man/woman relationship.

Gore Vidal wrote the source novel, and he called this movie the second worst he’d ever seen. I take this to mean that, at the very least, the movie didn’t do the book justice. I will say a couple of things about this movie; for what is essentially a “hip” self-indulgent late sixties/early seventies movie (you know the type), it is relatively short (only about ninety minutes) and it’s fairly easy to scope out; to me, it largely seems to be a sort of gay fantasy. In some ways, I find it similar to THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW; think of Myra as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, and Rusty and Mary Anne as Brad and Janet, and you’ll see what I mean. The worst problems I have with the movie is that it’s all pretty obvious in some ways, and it’s really rather creepy seeing Mae West performing the same type of shtick as she used to while wearing layers and layers of makeup that just can’t really cover up the fact that she was in her late seventies. The movie went way over budget due to the quirks of the director, who would sometimes leave the cast waiting while he went in the corner to “think” for several hours. The fantastic element seems to be that, after the sex change operation, Myra sometimes appears as her alter ego of Myron and even has conversations with him. I didn’t find the movie near as awful as its reputation would have it, but it’s not good, and even if it had been, I highly doubt if it would have been a financial success.

Modesty Blaise (1968)

Article 3518 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-9-2011
Posting Date: 4-2-2011
Directed by Joseph Losey
Featuring Monica Vitti, Terence Stamp, Dirk Bogarde
Country: UK
What it is: Swinging sixties superspy/supervillain movie

British Intelligence hires a female secret agent to prevent the theft of a large shipment of diamonds. However, neither side trusts the other, and the female secret agent may want the diamonds for herself…

I’ve encountered Joseph Losey enough in this series to have considered him a rather odd choice to helm this variation on the superspy/supervillain trend so popular during the sixties. Upon having seen the movie now, I’ll extend that to saying that he was definitely the wrong choice for this type of movie. Though I’m a little impressed with the cast, the movie seems distracted, arty, and self-indulgent; there are times where it seems to be trying for humor and only succeeds in making me wonder what he was trying to do. Having the lead characters break into a badly-warbled romantic song while they’re being shot at doesn’t make sense on any level. It occasionally shows some flashes of wit, mostly thanks to Harry Andrews, whose clearly-delineated spy character is the only one who is consistently funny. Most surprisingly, the action sequences are singularly lame, which seems almost unforgivable in this type of movie. From what I read, the movie bombed at the box office, playing to nearly empty houses, but a novelization of the original version of the screenplay (not the one used) sold so well that it spawned a whole series of sequels.

The Mighty Jungle (1964)

Article 3517 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-7-2011
Posting Date: 4-1-2011
Directed by Arnold Belgard, David DaLie and Ismael Rodriguez
Featuring Marshall Thompson, David DaLie and Antonio Gutierrez
Country: USA / Mexico
What it is: Don’t ask

Two explorers go on safaris, one in Africa, the other in South America.

They’ve done it! They’ve finally gone and done it! They’ve crossed a Double-Stuffed Safari-O with…. another Double-Stuffed Safari-O and created a… Quadruple-Stuffed Double Safari-O! This is known as inbreeding, and it produces monsters! Furthermore, it borrows the same technique of storytelling used by THE CREEPING TERROR and THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS, and you know what that means – Narration, and plenty of it. There’s a modicum of plot about a search for a missing party, but don’t think it leads anywhere and don’t count on a resolution. If there’s any fantastic content, it’s in the hallucination the one explorer undergoes after he imbibes some peyote-like substances and imagines himself among ancient peoples performing human sacrifices. One safari goes smoothly and uneventfully; the other one goes wrong spectacularly, which is not to say that it ever approaches being spectacular. So let’s rename this movie GOOFUS AND GALLANT ON SAFARI and be done with it, and let’s add this one to that ever growing list of unbelievably bad jungle movies, a genre that seems to have had more than its share of stinkers.

The Meateater (1979)

Article 3516 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-6-2011
Posting Date: 3-31-2011
Directed by Derek Savage
Featuring Arch Joboulian, Dianne Davis, Peter Spitzer
Country: USA
What it is: Regional horror film

A disgruntled shoe salesman buys a movie theater in a small town in the hope of making a living on it. However, there’s a secret resident in the theater – a badly burned former employee who eats rats and kills intruders.

This zero-budget regional horror has title theme music that sounds like a cross between “The Funeral March of the Marionettes” and the theme from “The Addams Family”, and this just made me wonder if the movie was intended as a comedy. In truth, it’s a little hard to tell. It’s never made clear, but the psycho may also be a cannibal. That might explain the movie’s obsession with food; it seems that a good seventy-five percent of the movie is obsessed with food, with cops chowing down while investigating murders, lots of scenes at the concession stand, talk about Jimmy Dean sausages and a family sing-along of the Oscar Mayer Wiener jingle. Not to mention that the movie they’re watching (GRIZZLY SAFARI, which is described on the marquee as “wholesome” and is supposed to be G-rated as the new owner promises the real estate agent) is mostly about animals killing and eating each other. The killer has an obsession with Jean Harlow; he runs silent films of the star during the theater’s off hours, and if you notice that the theater owner’s teenage daughter has a resemblance to Harlow, you’ll guess at least one plot development along the way. It’s certainly hard to take a movie seriously when one of the names of the characters is Lieutenant Wombat. The movie is bad, but weirdly engaging nonetheless, if for no other reason that the moments of weirdness make it a little hard to get one’s mind around it.

Mark of the Witch (1970)

Article 3515 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-5-2011
Posting Date: 3-30-2011
Directed by Tom Moore
Featuring Robert Elston, Anitra Walsh, Darryl Wells
Country: USA
What it is: Resurrected witch tale

A group of students studying superstitious rites performs a ritual to resurrect a witch; though it appears not to have worked, one of them has in fact been possessed by a witch. The witch intends to revitalize her coven and take vengeance on the descendant of the man who betrayed her.

For about the first twenty minutes, the movie is little more than a predictable set of cliches, including the pre-credits sequence where the witch, just prior to being hanged, places a curse on her betrayer. It’s not until the witch is resurrected that the movie starts showing a bit of imagination by incorporating some interesting details in the story; I particularly like the fact that the witch doesn’t come into the present with the knowledge of how the modern world works. The movie also works itself up to an interesting and slightly different ending. It does have moments of silliness, but that’s no real surprise; the movie’s biggest problem is that its pace is just too leisurely to work up much in the way of suspense, and you never really get caught up in the story. That being said, the movie is better than I expected it would be.