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.

A Mad House (1934)

A MAD HOUSE (1934)
Animated Short
Article 3747 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-5-2011
Posting Date: 11-17-2011
Directed by Frank Moser and Paul Terry
Voice actors unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Spooky cartoon

A mad scientist in an old house full of skeletons develops an invisibility formula.

As this was a Terrytoons cartoon, I wasn’t expecting much, but it turned out to be a quite entertaining mishmash. It begins as one of those “dancing skeleton” cartoons that were pretty common at the time, then turns into a mad scientist story, and then veers into a sort of operetta in the style Jeannette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy (though it predates the team). Overall, while not a great cartoon, it does have its moments, my favorite one being the gags surrounding a skeleton taking a shower.

La momia nacianol (1981)

aka The National Mummy
Article 3742 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-31-2011
Posting Date: 11-12-2011
Directed by Jose Ramon Larraz
Featuring Francisco Algora, Quique Camoiras, Azucena Capullo
Country: Spain
What it is: Monster mash

Nitwits encounter monsters. Comic mayhem ensues.

I’m assuming the title has some comic meaning in Spain; it certainly doesn’t when translated into English. For the record, the copy I have of this movie is in unsubtitled Spanish. One of the first scenes of the movie has a man staring lustily at a woman’s bosom; a minute or so later his nether regions have an encounter with the woman’s swinging purse. That should give you a level of the humor here, and the rest of the movie features a great deal of nudity. On top of the mummy in the title, we also have a bunch of vampires, a werewolf, and axe murderess to contend with in the horror department. Most of the humor seems to involve sex. The oddest moment has a man working with a midget to kill a vampire. The man holds up with the obligatory cross; the vampire counters with a hammer and sickle, and the midget counters back with a swastika, so I’m assuming there’s some political humor here as well. It has a rating of 5.4 on IMDB, and that seems to indicate that there are those out there who more or less appreciate this one. Me, I found it alternately impenetrable and crude.

Massacre at Central High (1976)

Article 3725 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-11-2011
Posting Date: 10-26-2011
Directed by Rene Daalder
Featuring Derrel Maury, Andrew Stevens, Robert Carradine
Country: USA
What it is: Tale of bloody revenge… but only on the surface

A new student at Central High discovers that his best friend has fallen in with a trio of bullies who terrorize the other students. Despite the fact that he could stay under the protection of the bullies, he can’t stand their tactics, and when violence erupts between them, the new student ends up crippled when the bullies drop a jacked-up car on him. When the student finally returns to school, the bullies begin to die one by one…

On the surface, the story seems to promise little more than the usual “bloody revenge” plot type of thrills. But an uncommon amount of thought went into the characters, the motivations, and the political subtext, and this gives the movie a surprising degree of depth. The political subtext clearly emerges where most movies of this ilk end; once the bullies are dead, we see what happens to the students they formerly oppressed, and it’s not a pretty sight, and the sad reality that having been oppressed does not necessarily ennoble oneself becomes a key theme. The new student is also a fascinating character; though he hates the injustices he sees, he is also aware that he himself has an anger that can spiral out of control; one of my favorite character moments in the movie is when he reveals the trick he has of managing his anger, because once he is crippled in the accident, we know that he can no longer rely on that trick. In some ways, the movie is a fantasy; despite the high school environment, we don’t see a single adult authority figure around; the only authority figures that do appear are some faceless policemen at the very end of the movie, and the only other adults that appear are alumni at a dance near the end of the movie, which means they can be considered as extensions of the students rather than as authority figures. Nevertheless, despite the strengths, there were some problems with the movie; apparently the original script had some pretty bad dialogue, and rather than using it, much of it was improvised on the spot, and the only character who was instructed to keep to the lines as originally written was the boy in the library, and if you can imagine all the other characters talking like he does, you might have an idea of how badly this movie could have ended up. The choice of music for the soundtrack is also pretty weak, and apparently the director never saw the finished film because he himself couldn’t stand the music that was used. Nevertheless, movies with this much thoughtfulness behind them are uncommon, and whatever its flaws, the movie is definitely worth viewing.

Un Martien a Paris (1961)

aka A Martian in Paris
Article 3712 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-28-2011
Posting Date: 10-13-2011
Directed by Jean-Daniel Daninos
Featuring Darry Cowl, Nicole Mirel, Henri Vilbert
Country: France
What it is: Science fiction comedy

A Martian is sent to Earth to research the disease known as love, but becomes infected himself.

Here’s another one rescued from my “Ones that got away” list thanks to the fact that it got an official release on DVD in France. Unfortunately, that means the movie has no English dubbing or subtitles, and given the above premise, I wasn’t really surprised that most of the comedy was verbal rather than visual. There’s a handful of sight gags, my favorite of which is a little bit where the lead actor does a bit of synchronized “looking” with a viewer on a spaceship. One of the sources I have dismisses the movie and says that Darry Cowl is doing a Jerry Lewis imitation, but I certainly didn’t get a sense of that happening at all; Jerry Lewis’s comedy would have been far more strident and visual. Because of the language barrier, I really have to reserve any judgment on this one.