Peer Gynt (1941)

PEER GYNT (1941)
Article 2272 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-11-2007
Posting Date: 11-1-2007
Directed by David Bradley
Featuring Charlton Heston, Betty Hanisee, Mrs. Hubert Hyde

A ne’er-do-well romances the women, defeats a mountain king, and travels around the world, leaving his true love behind.

The novelty value of this one is immense. Here’s a quick rundown of what is novel about it.

1) It features Charlton Heston’s first screen appearance.

2) It’s based on a play written by Henrik Ibsen, the Norwegian playwright who pioneered theatrical realism. Incidentally, this was one of the plays he wrote before he turned to realism, and is most likely the only one with enough fantastic elements (the mountain king sequence) to get included in this series. At least two other movie versions were made previous to this one, but those have remained elusive.

3) It was directed by David Bradley, who would hit a career peak with his next movie (JULIUS CAESAR), and then settle down to give us 12 TO THE MOON and THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN.

4) It was shot as an amateur movie on 16mm as a (mostly) silent movie; all but a few of the lines of dialogue are on title cards.

5) The music is by Grieg. It’s the score he originally wrote at Ibsen’s request for the 1876 stage production of “Peer Gynt”. You’ll recognize much of the music, especially the famous “In the Hall of the Mountain King”.

Judged as an amateur film, it is excellent and ambitious. However, since it is an amateur film, it does have some problems. It was shot in Illinois and Wisconsin, and it works all right when it’s trying to pass its location off as Norway, but less well when it passes itself off as Morocco. Charlton Heston (who was 17 at the time) definitely had that cinematic charisma even at this time, though he’s a lot more effective near the beginning of the movie when he’s playing his own age than he is playing much older. The cast was mostly made up of non-professionals, but overall they pass muster. Ultimately, the biggest problem I had with the movie is that the story itself isn’t very engaging; to me, it felt unfocused and overly episodic, and the fact that the character of Peer Gynt isn’t very likable makes it that much more difficult to warm up to. Still, as I said before, the novelty value is immense.

 

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Planeta Bur (1962)

PLANETA BUR (1962)
aka Planet of Storms
Article 2265 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-1-2007
Posting Date: 10-25-2007
Directed by Pavel Klushantsev
Featuring Vladimir Yemelyanov, Georgi Zhzhyonov, Gennadi Vernov

When a Russian spaceship gets stranded on Venus, a second spaceship lands on the planet to rescue them. They encounter dinosaurs and monsters, and search for signs of intelligent life.

Even if you haven’t seen this Russian science fiction epic, you may have seen several scenes from it; it was pillaged for footage twice by AIP, once for VOYAGE TO THE PREHISTORIC PLANET and again for VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF THE PREHISTORIC WOMEN . I’ve only seen the latter of those two recently, and the original movie does not have any of the shell-bikini clad all-female tribe headed by Mamie Van Doren. Instead, we get a lot more speculation on life and evolution and a subplot about the lone female cosmonaut waiting in space to hear from the two parties on Venus. I find this one easily the better of the two movies, though I’m sure that a number of people would prefer the Mamie Van Doren subplot (for obvious reasons). The movie is good, if not great; the special effects are strong for the most part, though some of the alien creatures are unconvincing and even a little silly (like the bearded octopus). The most memorable scenes here are ones that were borrowed for VTTPOPW; the robot’s trek through the lava while saddled with two human passengers, and the revelation of what is hidden in the triangular stone. The stone scene works much better here as well, since the presence of the Mamie Van Doren tribe in the other movie gives it less impact, and it has a moment here (involving a reflection seen in a small puddle of water) that was not included in the other movie; it is quite eloquent.

 

Pufnstuf (1970)

PUFNSTUF (1970)
Article 2250 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-14-2007
Posting Date: 10-10-2007
Directed by Hollingsworth Morse
Featuring Jack Wild, Billie Hayes, Martha Raye

A young boy with a magical golden talking flute ends up on Living Island where he is befriended by a dragon and terrorized by a witch.

“H.R. Pufnstuf” and the other Sid and Marty Krofft productions were part of my Saturday morning viewing when I was a child, but (with the marked exception of “Land of the Lost”) not a revered part. I watched them just to be watching something. Maybe that’s why I don’t have fond nostalgic memories of them, and this travesty certainly doesn’t inspire me to revisit them. On the plus side, some of the costumes are bizarre enough to catch my attention, there is a joke here or there that actually amused me, and the cast features Billy Barty and Angelo Rossitto. On the minus side, all but one of the songs are godawful, and the one that isn’t (which has the benefit of being performed by Mama Cass, someone who can actually sing, which is an advantage none of the other songs have) is merely passable and ludicrously out of place. And for the most part, the comedy consists of desperate, loud, screechy, repetitive, twitchy, ham-fisted, obvious, brain-numbing slapstick. In this context, Martha Raye comes off as the most dignified. Incidentally, the movie is directed by the man who gave us all of the Rocky Jones features.

The movie ends with Witchiepoo telling you to go home and have a nightmare. My response is “I’m already home and I just had one.”

 

The Possession of Joel Delaney (1972)

THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY (1972)
Article 2209 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-3-2007
Posting Date: 8-30-2007
Directed by Waris Hussein
Featuring Shirley MacLaine, Perry King, Lisa Kohane

A dominating society woman tries to look after her resentful brother who has recently begun to act very strange. She dislikes his friendship with a homicidal Puerto Rican friend she has never met. When a close friend of hers is horribly murdered, she discovers that the friend is dead, and that his spirit may have taken over the body of her brother.

At the time of this writing, this movie has a 5.3 rating on IMDB, which tells me that this movie is not well-liked. Well, there are things to dislike here. In my case, I’ve never been a big fan of Shirley MacLaine, not so much for her acting abilities (which are considerable) but more for the fact that I’ve found so many of her characters cold and unlikable, and the first time I saw this movie, I was initially turned off by those very qualities. Also, the final scenes of her and her family being terrorized by the possessed brother are truly upsetting, since the terrorizing involves a great deal of psychological and physical humiliation. However, these factors ultimately don’t bother me, because there is something psychologically correct about it all; much of what happens in the movie is driven by the psychological motivations of everyone concerned. Ultimately, it was the relationship of the brother with both his mother and his sister that drove him into the friendship with the killer, and in this context, the unlikable aspects of MacLaine’s character plays a significant role. There is also one absolutely stunning scene here, in which the MacLaine’s character takes part in a Puerto Rican ritual in an attempt to exorcise the spirit from his brother; I’ve seen similar scenes in many horror movies, but this one is absolutely riveting and convincing. All in all, the movie utterly fascinates me, though those expecting a more conventional horror movie may be disappointed. And taking the movie overall, the only thing I do not like is the final twist in the last few seconds, which feels more horror-movie-convenient than psychologically compelling.

 

The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (1966)
Article 2208 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-2-2007
Posting Date: 8-29-2007
Directed by John Gilling
Featuring Andre Morell, Diane Clare, Brook Williams

A doctor visits a former student who practices medicine in a small village in Cornwall. The village has been plagued my mysterious deaths, and bodies have begun to disappear from their graves. The doctor begins to suspect that someone is practicing voodoo.

I was disappointed by this movie when I first saw it years ago because I felt that the zombies were underused; back then, things like that meant a lot to me. Watching it now, I still think that’s somewhat true, and I’m also a little put out by the fact that the scariest scene featuring them turns out to be someone’s dream (though, in all truth, I saw it coming). Nevertheless, I liked it much better this time, largely because I really have grown to appreciate the excellence of Andre Morell’s performance as the doctor searching for the truth; his presence adds a great deal of character and humor to the proceedings, and this makes the movie thoroughly enjoyable throughout. There’s also a nice sense of mystery to the proceedings, and all the other performances are quite good, especially from Diane Clare and Jacqueline Pearce. Originally, I didn’t think it was modeled off of any of the older horror movies, but I couldn’t help but notice that there’s a strong similarity in story to WHITE ZOMBIE . The ending is particularly good here; I especially like the events that ultimately lead to the destruction of the zombies. Though there are some questionable plot elements, I do recognize why this one is a favorite of many Hammer aficionados.

 

The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962)
Article 2207 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-1-2007
Posting Date: 8-28-2007
Directed by Terence Fisher
Featuring Herbert Lom, Heather Sears, Thorley Walters

Mysterious setbacks have plagued the presentation of an opera about Joan of Arc. The cause of these setbacks has to do with a mysterious phantom who terrorizes those involved in the production.

Though I had little hope that this version of the Gaston Leroux novel would eclipse the wonderful Lon Chaney version of the story, I did have hopes that I would like it better than the 1943 Claude Rains remake , which has always disappointed me somewhat. I did enjoy parts of this one well enough; Terence Fisher’s direction is solid, the movie is efficient, and the movie is anchored by an excellent performance from Herbert Lom as the most sympathetic phantom I’ve seen yet; he’s even allowed to be heroic on occasion. This compensates somewhat for a weak and clumsy script. At times it’s emotionally unsatisfying; the comeuppance of the Michael Gough’s evil Lord d’Arcy is singularly unsatisfying, and the movie leaves an insane dwarf on the loose at the ending. The mystery aspect of the movie (who is the phantom and why is he doing this) is also fairly weak, especially if you’ve seen the Claude Rains version, and it’s a dramatic mistake to recreate certain scenes after the movie has already sufficiently explained them. And there’s a huge logic error in the chandelier sequence; given that the rope frays because of the extra weight caused by the dwarf hanging on it, shouldn’t it fray above the dwarf rather than below? Incidentally, the cast also features Michael Ripper as a cabbie, and a memorable cameo from Patrick Troughton as a ratcatcher.

 

The Possessed (1975)

THE POSSESSED (1975)
aka LA ENDEMONIADA, DEMON WITCH CHILD
Article 2187 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-12-2007
Posting Date: 8-8-2007
Directed by Amanda de Ossorio
Featuring Julian Mateos, Marian Salgado, Fernando Sancho

The spirit of an old hag who was the head of a witch’s coven possesses a young girl and gets her to do horrible things.

Though I haven’t covered any of them yet, I quite like what I’ve seen of Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead movies. I like them well enough that I’m somewhat surprised that I’ve been singularly unimpressed by his movies that aren’t part of that series. In the case of this one, I’m sure that the horrendous dubbing is partly responsible. The fact that the movie is mostly just a lazy rip-off of THE EXORCIST doesn’t help matters any, and it’s further hurt by a musical score that I can only describe as rinky-dink; it’s one of those scores that distracts you from the movie by making you wonder when they’re going to feature that goofy tuning-the-timpani Boooiiinnnngggg! sound again. The fact that there’s something simply not scary about a little girl in old woman makeup attacking people and that the pace is deathly slow at times also work against it. It’s at its worst when it’s borrowing too much from THE EXORCIST (especially when it bends over backward to fit in a subplot about the priest’s ex-girlfriend), but it’s probably at its best when it engages in some horror that is fairly edgy.; at least two children are killed during the course of the movie, and what the girl does to her mother’s boyfriend is certainly shocking enough. Again, the movie would probably be better subtitled and appropriately letterboxed, but I suspect that it would still be on the weak side.