Orca (1977)

ORCA (1977)
Article 3241 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-4-2010
Posting Date: 6-29-2010
Directed by Michael Anderson
Featuring Richard Harris, Charlotte Rampling, Will Sampson
Country: USA
What it is: JAWS-inspired fish story

When a captain kills a pregnant killer whale and her unborn child, he becomes the target of the vengeance-driven mate of the one he killed.

This is perhaps the most famous of the various ripoffs that came in the wake of JAWS. To its credit, it takes a different tack on the subject; here, we’re obviously supposed to sympathize with the wronged killer whale rather than just see it as an object of terror. It also doesn’t try to make a villain of the captain, and attempts to provide some parallels between the captain’s life and that of the killer whale’s. Still, in order to pull this kind of story off, you need a strong script, and that’s just what this movie lacks. One of the problems is that it makes the killer whale just too damn clever; he seems to know just what to do to cause the most damage, and he seems to know where everyone is at every moment. Yes, I can understand the desire to anthropomorphize the beast, but here it approaches silliness. Furthermore, it’s so obsessed with its various themes (the intelligence of the killer whales, the relationship between the captain and the killer whale, the possibility that this may be some mystical destiny) that it fails to really develop the characters and the situation. I noticed that though I found the movie watchable enough (thanks in part to some good performances), I never really felt much tension or fear, and that’s because I never felt this was happening to real characters in a real world. Nevertheless, despite its flaws, I’ve always liked the movie a little. But I do have a serious issue with any movie that has the good sense to cast Keenan Wynn and the bad sense to kill him off in the first reel.


One Arabian Night (1920)

aka Sumurun
Article 3179 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-26-2010
Posting Date: 4-28-2010
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Featuring Ernst Lubitsch, Pola Negri, Paul Wegener
Country: Germany
What it is: Arabian Nights epic

The beautiful favorite wife of a sheik is secretly in love with a handsome merchant. She hatches a plan to find another woman more beautiful than herself to lure the sheik into picking a new favorite wife, thereby leaving her free to pursue her affair. However, the woman she finds is a wild and unpredictable gypsy woman who is loved unrequitedly by a hunchback. Complications ensue.

The only fantastic content in this Arabian Nights story is the presence of a hunchback; other than that, the only reason I can think that this movie would qualify is by association, since many other Arabian Nights stories have more fantastic elements. Of the Lubitsch films I’ve seen for this series, this is my second favorite, but you must bear in mind that two of the others I’ve seen (THE EYES OF THE MUMMY and THAT LADY IN ERMINE) are considered his weakest movies, and this one is considered just a hair better. Lubitsch himself was extremely disappointed by his own performance as the hunchback here, and it was his last acting role. I quite liked the movie, though it is admittedly over the top, but the energy is very high, and it manages to tell its complicated story with verve and clarity. Much of the story is comedic, though it takes some tragic turns towards the end. Pola Negri is definitely memorable as the wild gypsy woman, and Paul Wegener shows up as the jealous sheik. My favorite story thread has the hunchback seeking solace from his pain by imbibing of a drug that puts him into a deathlike state, only to have his supine body embark on a series of unexpected adventures when it is stolen by thieves that mistake it for booty.

Off to Bloomingdale Asylum (1901)

aka L’omnibus des toques blancs et noirs
Article 3171 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-18-2010
Posting Date: 4-20-2010
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Bizarre little trick film

Four black men turn white when they are knocked off an omnibus by a mechanical horse. They turn themselves black again, then white again, then black, and merge into one fat black man, which then….

The black men are white men in blackface, so you know that this Melies short wouldn’t fly today. According to one source, they’re being transported to an asylum, but they probably got that from the English title; the French title doesn’t appear to have any words that reflect an asylum at all. It’s surreal, quick, and fun.

CORRECTION: According to doctor kiss at CHFB, the word ‘toques’ above more or less classifies the characters as “madmen”, and the world “Charenton” on the omnibus is a reference to a French asylum. So, I stand corrected.

Old Scrooge (1913)

aka Scrooge
Article 3152 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-29-2010
Posting Date: 4-1-2010
Directed by Leedham Bantock
Featuring Seymour Hicks, William Lugg, Leedham Bantock
Country: UK
What it is: Could it be… another version of “A Christmas Carol?”

Scrooge is a skinflint who hates Christmas. But on Christmas Eve, he is visited by the ghost of his partner, who may make him change his ways…

I remember griping about the 1935 Seymour Hicks version of this story because it reduced Marley to a spoken voice who appears only momentarily. Maybe it was to balance out this version, where not only does Marley appear, but he takes the place of the other three spirits and does all the ghosting by himself. This one also features Seymour Hicks (who had made a career of playing Scrooge on stage), and he gives a good performance. The structure is pretty odd here; it only runs about forty minutes, and I found it odd that at the twenty minute mark, Scrooge was still hanging around the office and no ghost had appeared. As a result, the movie rushes through the visions of the past, present and future, and spends most of its time in the pre- and post-ghost sections of the story. It also features an introductory piece about Dickens, which gives a bit of a history of the story itself. I was a little confused by the date; IMDB lists 1913, and my print lists 1926, but the later date results from a re-release thirteen years after it was made.

Omicron (1963)

OMICRON (1963)
Article 3097 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-12-2009
Posting Date: 2-5-2010
Directed by Ugo Gregoretti
Featuring Renato Salvatori, Rosemary Dexter, Gaetano Quartararo
Country: Italy
What it is: Political science fiction comedy

The dead body of an Italian worker is brought back to life when it is possessed by an alien from outer space. The alien learns to control his new body while exploring the world around him.

I’m really glad I got a chance to see this one, even if my copy is in unsubtitled Italian. I know I’m missing much of the plot, (though I can definitely see that there’s some sort of political subtext) but it gives Renato Salvatori a chance to engage in some truly creative visual comedy, especially when his character is learning how to control his body. The plot appears to revolve around his job, in which he becomes super-competent, but he eventually ends up taking part in a strike. I’d love to figure out what’s going on in some of the scenes, but some of them are quite amusing nonetheless; my favorite has him absorbing the contents of a whole slew of books which he can read just by flipping through the pages (the only book he keeps is an illustrated biography of Brigitte Bardot). The plot becomes more complex as you get deeper into the movie, but even I can tell that it ends with a wicked twist. Let’s hope a good subtitled copy shows up sometime soon.

Outer Touch (1979)

Article 3083 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-25-2009
Posting Date: 1-22-2010
Directed by Norman J. Warren
Featuring Barry Stokes, Tony Maiden, Glory Annen
Country: UK
What it is: Science fiction sex comedy

Three female aliens from outer space make an emergency landing on Earth, where they pick up four people. Not having seen men before, they are surprised to discover that three of the creatures have flat chests and strange appendages. However, they soon learn the purpose of the appendages…

This movie has three female space aliens. One is in charge of the ship, and wears black leather. One is an engineer and wears a low cut blouse. The third is a scientist and has an elaborate wardrobe. The four Earthlings include an engaged couple who aren’t having sex yet (he wants to and she doesn’t), a geeky student who likes porno magazines, and a would-be stud. There’s also a talking gay computer and a mechanical psychiatrist in the form of a Wurlitzer jukebox. By the end of the movie everyone’s had a chance to be naked, the three space aliens learn to enjoy some new experiences with the geeky student, the stud gets his comeuppance, and I’ll let you guess what happens with the engaged couple. As a comedy, I found it laughless; as a sex movie, it’s a matter of personal taste, and it depends on who is on the screen at the time (for those who are curious, I’m partial to Ava Cadell myself). Outside of that, the most interesting thing about this one is that it seems at least partially modeled off of DARK STAR; in particular, there is the concept of a computer constantly reporting on hardware malfunctions that are never addressed, and the end of the movie bears a certain similarity as well. Whether this movie is your cup of tea is up to you.

100 Cries of Terror (1965)

100 CRIES OF TERROR (1965)
aka Cien gritos de terror
Article 3026 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-20-2009
Posting Date: 11-26-2009
Directed by Ramon Obon
Featuring Ariadno Welter, Joaquin Cordero, Ofelia Montesco
Country: Mexico

Two tales of terror are presented. In the first, a woman with a weak heart moves into a new house with her husband, but rumors persist that the place is haunted. In the second, a man is trapped in a crypt and rescues a woman who has been buried alive. Together they must face a long night of terror.

This is a strange one. The first story comes off initially like a GASLIGHT variant, but it dispenses with that story arc so quickly that it doesn’t allow it to become tiresome. It’s rather fun to second guess this one, because each new twist the movie leads into a new albeit familiar direction; the biggest surprise comes at the end when an event that had been set up earlier in the movie DOESN’T happen, and you’re left wondering if it’s bad plotting or if you’ve been faked out. The second one is a real humdinger; it starts out in premature burial territory, but never quite goes the way you think it will, and ends it all with a twist that shouldn’t work but does, if for no other reason than it allows you to reject it. Still, this one is a bit trying on occasion; between the endless bizarre philosophizing and the hysteria there’s a number of opportunities to get bored and/or annoyed. Nevertheless, this one sticks with you, and the weird montage scenes add to the unsettlement. I suspect K. Gordon Murray’s dubbing doesn’t help this movie put its best foot forward, and I’ve never warmed up to jazz soundtracks in horror movies, but this one is worth a look; like many of the great Mexican horror movies, it never walks the straight and obvious path.