Mark of the Witch (1970)

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.

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The Man from 1997 (1956)

THE MAN FROM 1997 (1956)
TV-Episode of “Conflict”
Article 3511 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-1-2011
Posting Date: 3-26-2011
Directed by Roy Del Ruth
Featuring Jacques Sernas, Gloria Talbott, Charles Ruggles
Country: USA
What it is: Fifties science fiction, TV style

An immigrant janitor stumbles upon an almanac from the year 1997 in a book shop, and believes he can win the woman of his dreams if he uses the information to make himself rich. However, there’s another man searching for the book, and he’s from the future…

I’m not quite sure if this TV episode really qualifies as a movie per se; it runs about fifty minutes without commercials. Nevertheless, it’s listed as one in the Willis guide, and so I’m covering it. Personally, I’m just glad I was able to find it. What caught my eye from the very start was seeing that it was based on a short story by Alfred Bester, one of my favorite science fiction authors and one who has rarely been adapted for the movies. I’d recently read a collection of his short stories, but I didn’t recognize the story until the twist near the end involving a dollar bill. The story is basically a fairly gentle science fiction fable, despite a subplot involving gangsters who are after the almanac; the main thrust of the story involves the man from the future trying to convince the immigrant to sell the almanac to him for a dollar in the hopes that he won’t try to use the information to make his fortune, a situation which doesn’t sit well the the immigrant’s prospective girlfriend. It’s a fun little story, and the cast also features James Garner in an early role. Incidentally, there may be an error in the IMDB listing for this episode; the character of “Man” is listed as having been played by an actor named Johnny Vlakoz, who has no other acting credits to his name, which doesn’t surprise me, since Johnny Vlakoz is actually the character name of the immigrant in the movie.

Un Matrimonio Interplanetario (1909)

UN MATRIMONIO INTERPLANETARIO (1909)
aka Interplanetary Wedding
Article 3491 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-31-2011
Posting Date: 3-6-2011
Directed by Enrico Novelli
Cast unknown
Country: Italy
What it is: Lighthearted early science fiction

With his new telescope, a man finds his true love on the planet Mars.

I’m guessing a little bit on the plot of this one insofar as the planets in question, but I think the woman he loves is on Mars, and they meet and marry on the moon. I managed to find a copy of this one when some members of CHFB pointed me in the direction of a YouTube video that consists of several musicians performing music to fantastically-themed silent shorts. Granted, this isn’t a clean viewing of the movie; the footage from the film is interspersed with footage of the musicians, but I saw enough of it that I don’t think I missed a whole lot. The short has some fun visuals; I especially like when the man sends a telegram to his love on Mars, and you see the letters flying through space. It does make me want to go through the whole video concert and see what other movies they cover.

P.S. I have since been given a copy of this with English translations of some of the hard-to-read sections, and I turned out to be correct on my plot interpretation.

Merlin (1992)

MERLIN (1992)
Article 3452 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-18-2010
Posting Date: 1-26-2011
Directed by Paul Hunt
Featuring Nadia Cameron-Blakey, Rodney Wood, Richard Lynch
Country: UK
What it is: Epic fantasy

A female reporter discovers that she is the reincarnation of the Lady of the Lake, and she is destined to try to keep the magical sword from falling into the clutches of the evil Pendragon, the son of Mordred.

Over the years, I’ve come up with a few guidelines for deciding whether a movie is going to be any good, and one of them is this – if a movie features the character of Merlin but does not feature King Arthur, it will be pretty bad. There’s no real logic about this rule; it’s based on experience, and this movie certainly doesn’t change that evaluation. It also make me think of another rule; if you’re going to imbue your epic action-adventure flick with mysticism, you’re better off keeping it simple and concise, or else you run the risk of muddying up your movie, as happens here. The movie is like a cross between EXCALIBUR and HIGHLANDER; unfortunately, it’s a lot closer to the latter, and lacks that movie’s pyrotechnics. The action sequences are confusing and the storytelling is pretty rotten. Unless you’re a big fan of Richard Lynch (who plays Pendragon) or James Hong (who plays the Lady’s guardian Leong Tao and who should really shave those hairs on his left cheek), there’s little reason to bother with this one.

The Man Who Wagged His Tail (1957)

THE MAN WHO WAGGED HIS TAIL (1957)
aka Un angelo e sceso e Brooklyn
Article 3424 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-19-2010
Posting Date: 12-29-2010
Directed by Ladislao Vajda
Featuring Peter Ustinov, Pablito Calvo, Aroldo Tieri
Country: Italy / Spain
What it is: Transformation fantasy

When a cold-hearted landlord earns the enmity of his tenants by knocking down a young boy, a beggar with magical powers transforms him into a dog until someone grows to love him.

The “reformation of a scoundrel” is probably one of the most common story arcs in fantasy cinema, with A CHRISTMAS CAROL being only the most famous example. Peter Ustinov plays the reprobate who needs to be taught a lesson, and though he does a fine job, the movie is stolen by Caligula the dog, who shares with Ustinov the title role. The dog has some of the most expressive eyes I’ve ever seen on an animal actor, and it is this performance that really draws us in and makes us care about the fate of the characters. The interesting milieu is also a strong point; Brooklyn is portrayed as a veritable melting pot of immigrants from other countries, and it gives the movie a really nice flavor. My favorite scenes include the dog having to perform an act which on the surface seems horrible but in truth is meant to save a woman from making a bad decision, the dog’s final act of bravery, and the last scene in the movie, which I won’t give away other than to say that it involves one character convincing another of something unbelievable. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a good one, and quite enjoyable.

Metempsycose (1907)

METEMPSYCOSE (1907)
aka Metempsychosis
Article 3398 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-22-2010
Posting Date: 12-3-2010
Directed by Segundo de Chomon and Ferdinand Zecca
Cast unknown
Country: France

A woman puts a bust on a table. It comes to life, transforms into a butterfly, and produces two babies.

What we have here is your basic trick film; there’s no real plot, but just a series of visual tricks. I have no idea what the title means, but if someone had told me that this was where babies came from, I would have suspected that there was some psychosis involved. This brings our Chomonothon to an end, though I have no doubt that I’ll be covering more of his films at some later time.

Motel Hell (1980)

MOTEL HELL (1980)
Article 3395 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-18-2010
Posting Date: 11-30-2010
Directed by Kevin Connor
Featuring Rory Calhoun, Paul Linke, Nancy Parsons

Farmer Vincent Smith runs a motel that is known for its excellent smoked meats, made from a secret family recipe. To get his secret “ingredients”, he waylays passing motorists and fattens them up in his garden. However, when he is smitten with a young lady and decides to make her part of the family, he sets in motion his own undoing…

This is an uneven but interesting black comedy that I wish was better than it is. It’s a pretty outrageous story with a fun sense of detail; I like some of the bizarre traps Vincent sets up to capture his prey, and the sense of detail that goes into the preparation of his “animals” is rather striking. The problem I have with the movie is that it tends to soft-pedal the humor; in fact, the score occasionally betrays a lyrically evocative mood that seems quite out of place with the story. If anything, the movie seems to take itself a little too seriously at times, and though Rory Calhoun gives a memorable performance as Vincent, he may go a little too far in keeping his character from being a caricature. In short, it’s just not all that funny, even though it’s too outrageous to be taken in any other way. The ending, which parodies old-fashioned mellerdrammers (think of heroines tied to logs in in sawmills) is one of the better scenes in the movie, and it does feature Vincent’s last line, which is the funniest one in the movie. It’s worth catching, though I’m afraid it’s not quite successful.