The Night of a Thousand Cats (1972)

THE NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS (1972)
aka La noche de los mil gatos

Article 3647 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-25-2011
Posting Date: 8-9-2011
Directed by Rene Cardona Jr.
Featuring Anjanette Comer, Zulma Faiad, Hugo Stiglitz
Country: Mexico
What it is: Psychos and Mad Animals

A psycho seduces women, and then kills them and feeds them to his 1000 cats.

Maybe the full 93 minute version fleshes things out a bit; it’s likely to be more coherent than the 63 minute version that made it to the USA and which I’ve just seen (unless, of course, it was just a bunch of sex scenes that were removed, which is distinctly possible). In this form, the movie consists of little more than the premise. There may be a backstory of some sort hidden in there, but the way it’s edited, it’s really hard to tell. Probably the most curious thing about this movie is that our psycho does his cruising for cat food in a helicopter, and he does a lot of cruising. You can probably guess the ending; I saw it coming when I saw the premise, and one thing this movie doesn’t do is give you surprises. Animal lovers will definitely want to steer clear of this one; there’s a couple of scenes where the psycho treats cats in a way that indicates that the humane society was nowhere near the production site, and they don’t look faked.

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Ne jouez pas avec les Martiens (1967)

NE JOUEZ PAS AVEC LES MARTIENS (1967)
aka Don’t Play With the Martians

Article 3591 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-28-2011
Posting Date: 6-14-2011
Directed by Henri Lanoe
Featuring Jean Rochefort, Macha Meril, Jean Ozenne
Country: France
What it is: Science fiction comedy

A pair of reporters find their job in peril because of their inability to report on the important stories in favor of fluff pieces. They are given a last chance to redeem themselves by covering the birth of quintuplets in a remote location. When a joke message about Martians is sent to the editor right before a power blackout, the message is taken seriously. The situation is complicated when real space aliens appear…

Actually, I had some happy surprises while watching this movie. The first was to discover that I had managed to find a copy that was dubbed into English, so I didn’t have to struggle to follow the story. There’s a point in the movie after the joke message is sent out where I found myself wondering if the Martians were going to be no more real than the ones in THE NIGHT THAT PANICKED AMERICA, because, at that point, I got the feeling that the rest of the movie was going to be built around that misunderstanding. Fortunately, in terms of its fantastic content, space aliens do show up, and though they’re technically not Martians, they’ll do. Overall, it’s a pretty silly comedy, but there are a couple of good laughs; the biggest for me was discovering why the space aliens show up. Overall, it’s a minor curio more than anything else.

The Night that Panicked America (1975)

THE NIGHT THAT PANICKED AMERICA (1975)
TV-Movie

Article 3573 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-7-2011
Posting Date: 5-27-2011
Directed by Joseph Sargent
Featuring Vic Morrow, Cliff De Young, Michael Constantine
Country: USA
What it is: Historical reenactment

A Halloween radio broadcast of an adaptation of “The War of the Worlds” has an unexpected side effect; many people listening to the broadcast mistake the events for real, and panic ensues…

Though the movie itself can’t strictly be called Science Fiction, it is nonetheless an example of how a powerful medium of communication can bring a fantastically-themed story to a life so vivid that it is capable of overcoming listener’s disbelief in the very concept. I love the structure of the movie; it juxtaposes the lives of several groups of people with a recreation of the radio play, and then lets the events unfold in real time. Some of the stories have a comic edge (the father and son story which ends with an embarrassing incident at a water tower, the party of blue-bloods in which only the help are aware that the transmission is a radio play); others flirt with tragedy (the father who almost takes a drastic step to save his children from attack by Martians). It explores somewhat the reasons for the panic, such as the extraordinarily realistic approach to the presentation of the story (in which a musical show is constantly interrupted by news broadcasts as the events unfold), the accidental tuning in of people at specific moments, and the general tension caused by the events in Europe that were leading into World War II. There’s lots of familiar names in the ensemble cast, including Eileen Brennan, Marilyn Baxter, Will Geer, John Ritter, Tom Bosley, and Casey Kasem (as one of the Mercury Theatre Players). I found it immensely entertaining, and have to admire the precision editing whereby everything is kept in sync. All in all, this is one that is definitely worth catching.

Die Nonne von Verona (1973)

DIE NONNE VON VERONA (1973)
aka Le monache di Sant’Arcangelo, The Nuns of St. Archangelo
Article 3528 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-18-2011
Posting Date: 4-12-2011
Directed by Domenico Paolella
Featuring Anne Heywood, Luc Merenda, Omella Muti
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Nunsploitation

On the death of the mother superior, a nun of the convent uses political manipulation to gain her position. However, the convent has attracted the attention of the Inquisition…

I’m a bit mystified by the appeal of the whole “nunsploitation” genre, but because it doesn’t of necessity end up in the genres I’m covering, I’ll probably only be watching a fraction of them. In this case, the only reason for its inclusion in this series is the presence of a handful of torture sequences, nudging it in the direction of horror. By the standards of the genre, this one is pretty mild; there’s sex, nudity and torture, but less than I expected. Most of the movie is actually concerned with the plot, which is based on a true story, and the story itself is fairly decent until it decides to get all preachy with its message (that the judges of the corruption at the convent are equally corrupt themselves). Still, the movie occasionally gets a little too desperate in employing its exploitation elements; when one nun is dying of poison and rips open her clothes so we can see her breasts, I get the sense it’s a cheap attempt to work in one last bit of nudity before the movie closes. Granted, that’s probably what fans of this genre want.

Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979)

NOSFERATU: PHANTOM DER NACHT (1979)
aka Nosferatu the Vampyre
Article 3526 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-16-2011
Posting Date: 4-10-2011
Directed by Werner Herzog
Featuring Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani, Bruno Ganz
Country: West Germany / France
What it is: Adaptation of DRACULA

Jonathan Harker undertakes a journey to the castle of Count Dracula in Transylvania in order to close a deal on some real estate. He soon discovers that Dracula is a creature of evil with designs on his wife, and he must try to escape the castle and return home to save her.

The original NOSFERATU was an unauthorized adaptation of “Dracula”, and I do find it a bit odd that Werner Herzog chose to title his version of the Dracula story the same. Having seen it though, there is a reason; he obviously wanted to tap into certain aspects of that version of the story, and I think he actually does a fine job at it. It’s certainly one of the quietest versions of the story, with much of the music subdued and unobtrusive, but this adds quite a bit to the subliminal sense of dread, despair, and sadness that permeates this version. As always with versions of DRACULA, I find it fascinating to see how characters are reworked and modified; as in the Murnau version, the real hero in the story is Lucy, who must make the supreme sacrifice. In this one, Van Helsing is the skeptic; it’s not until too late that he takes any action. Dracula himself is tragic, sad and tortured, and Klaus Kinski’s performance in the role is excellent. Some of the visuals are fascinating; I love the way the movie emphasizes the plague subplot, especially when Lucy makes her way through the near-deserted town to discover the remaining people celebrating as best they can in the knowledge that they have the plague and will soon all be dead; most jarring is a dinner scene with all the diners surrounded by hordes of rats. Though it’s not quite as important as the Murnau version, this is definitely a worthy remake of the story.

The Natural (1984)

THE NATURAL (1984)
Article 3525 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-15-2011
Posting Date: 4-9-2011
Directed by Barry Levinson
Featuring Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger
Country: USA
What it is: Baseball fantasy

A promising young baseball player’s career is nipped in the bud when he is shot by a woman under mysterious circumstances. He returns to the game as a middle-aged man, and proves to be a phenomenal player, but there are those who want him and his team to fail…

One thought I had as I was watching this movie is that it could have easily slid into campy overkill; the potentially melodramatic plot machinations and overtly symbolic characters could have bushwhacked this movie if it had taken itself seriously in a realistic mode. The reason it succeeds is that it knows it’s a fable and an allegory, and though the movie never becomes an overt fantasy, the undercurrent of it not being realistic is incredibly strong. It’s further helped by a whole slew of excellent performances from everyone, from Robert Redford’s heroic slugger to Wilfred Brimley’s put-upon coach to Glenn Close’s angelic girlfriend to Robert Prosky’s corrupt judge. Two performances in particular are worthy of mention; Joe Don Baker is truly memorable playing The Whammer (obviously modelled off of Babe Ruth), and Darren McGavin (who goes unbilled) almost steals the show as a high-stakes gambler. I ended up really liking the movie, and I don’t care one whit for baseball. Of course, whether I would actually classify it as a fantasy is another issue, and even given my comments above, it still seems quite a stretch to me. For the record, the movie is included in John Stanley’s “Creature Features Movie Guide Strikes Again”, thus it’s inclusion in this series.

A Name for Evil (1973)

A NAME FOR EVIL (1973)
Article 3524 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-14-2011
Posting Date: 4-8-2011
Directed by Bernard Girard
Starring Robert Culp, Samantha Eggar, Sheila Sullivan
Country: USA
What it is: Figure it out yourself

An architect with marital problems leaves his dead-end job and goes to live at the home of his great-great-grandfather, known as the Major. However, the Major’s spirit may still exist on the premises, and he doesn’t like intruders…

The DVD package in which this came says the movie is “not for children or adults who scare easily”. I’ll definitely agree with the “not for children”, given the fact that it is full of nudity and sex and has a plot element involving masturbation as well as an orgy sequence. As for it not being for “adults who scare easily”, I’d say it’s actually not for “adults who confuse easily”, because, even though the DVD box tries to make the movie sound like it’s scary as hell, I have to agree with John Stanley’s evaluation of the movie in his “Creature Features Movie Guide Strikes Again” book where he makes it sound as pretentious as hell. Basically, it’s one of those “fantasy vs. reality” movies where we’re not sure how much of what we’re seeing is really happening and how much is all in the architect’s fevered imagination. I can find things to admire about the movie if I take it from a distance and squint really hard, but when I’m in close proximity to it, I find the self-conscious dialogue, the lack of subtlety, and the pompous score (which acts as if every scene is fraught with portent) conspire together to annoy the hell out of me. This movie sat on the shelf for several years before it was released, for obvious reasons. This, like yesterday’s movie, is one of those where you suspect that the story behind the making of the movie is a lot more interesting than the movie itself. By the way, if you ever wanted to see a full-frontal nude shot of Robert Culp, here’s your chance.