Psi Factor (1980)

Article 4011 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-23-2012
Directed by Bryan Trizers
Featuring Peter Mark Richman, Gretchen Corbett, Tom Martin
Country: USA
What it is: Alien conspiracy thriller

When a civilian scientist attached to a military space probe project stumbles across evidence of extraterrestrial life, he finds himself on the run from those who want to cover up the discovery… as well as from the aliens themselves.

The minute I saw the names Sandler and Emenegger in the opening credits, I knew three things. 1) Steven Spielberg’s sister was going to be involved as well in some capacity (she’s an associate producer); 2) I could probably cobble together an equivalent production budget by raiding a line of gumball machines, and 3) despite the lack of means to effectively tell the story and the various problems that crop up, the movie will still have something going for it. Granted, the most satisfying elements in this movie come near the very end; for most of the running time, it plays like a bad conspiracy thriller with annoying characters (both the scientist’s girlfriend and the comic-relief pilot got on my nerves) and cliched dialogue. The oddest touch is a series of obviously symbolic scenes of children playing with insects; it happens enough that you know they mean something, but it’s not until the end of the movie that you’ll know what. The movie overall seems like a variation of the associate producer’s brother’s more famous CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, but at least the final revelations are its own. Make no mistake; most of the movie is pretty bad, but I didn’t walk away empty-handed, and that’s always a plus.

Pasi spre luna (1963)

aka Steps to the Moon
Article 3997 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-4-2012
Directed by Ion Popescu-Gopo
Featuring Ion Anghel, Marcel Anghelescu, Radu Beligan
Country: Romania
What it is: Fantasy of legend and history

A man, bound for the moon, dreams that he must wend his way through the world of legends, myths and history to make his way to his destination.

It’s movies like this that really brighten this whole project. It has no subtitles, but none are needed; the movie is virtually without talk. In his journey, our hero meets such luminaries as Prometheus, Cupid, Mercury, Galileo, Cyrano de Bergerac, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, and attempts to fly to the moon in several different ways, including hitching a ride with an eagle, using a flying carpet, riding a witch’s broomstick, etc. There’s no real story, but it’s charming and engaging, and filled with touches of humor; the closest I can come to a comparison is with the works of Melies and Karel Zeman. The humor can be quite surprising at times; my favorite moment has the hero coming to the rescue of Prometheus by scaring the eagle away, wiping the brow or Prometheus, and then quietly and casually reattaching part of his fake beard that came loose.

The Pumaman (1980)

aka L’uomo puma
Article 3967 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-30-2012
Directed by Alberto De Martino
Featuring Walter George Alton, Donald Pleasence, Miguel Angel Fuentes
Country: Italy
What it is: Stupor-inducing super-hero

An ancient mask of extraterrestrial origin falls in the hands of a villain who uses it to control men’s minds. Only Pumaman can defeat him… but the current incarnation of this hero is unaware of his powers. Can he learn the truth and fulfill his destiny?

This movie must surely be one of the biggest non-events in the history of superhero cinema. Heaven knows why he’s called Pumaman; most pumas I know don’t have the ability to fly or walk through walls. I don’t know which aspect is worst; the story is lame, the direction is turgid, the soundtrack is only rousing if you get excited about changing which floor you’re on in a skyscraper, the special effects are crummy (you will believe a man can flail before a blue-screen), and the hero has all the charisma of cardboard box. Even Donald Pleasence seems lost here, but then, he’s usually at his best when the script gives him something to play with, which is not the case here. At least Miguel Angel Fuentes has a bit of screen presence, but that’s about the best thing I can say about this one. At best, this one might be good for a laugh, but it’s more likely to induce sleep. About the only thing that held my attention was my speculation on the correct pronunciation of “puma”.

Peer Gynt (1934)

PEER GYNT (1934)
Article 3944 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-1-2012
Directed by Fritz Wendhausen
Featuring Hans Albers, Lucie Hoflich, Marieluise Claudius
Country: Germany
What it is: Ibsen drama

A ne’er-do-well from a small village makes his way into the world and becomes a successful businessman.

This movie has now been retrieved from my “ones-that-got-away” list; unfortunately, my copy is in unsubtitled German, and, even though I’ve seen the 1941 version of the story and read the original play many years ago, not enough stayed in my head to help me with this one. So I looked around for a plot description to help me, and I found one of the original play, and though this version of the story follows the story of the play for about the first thirty minutes, as far as I can tell after that, it diverges quite a bit. More to the point, the sequence where Peer Gynt encounters the troll king (which, from reading the plot description, takes place in a dream) has either been omitted from this version or changed to a much more realistic scenario. The problem is – that’s the sole fantastic content in the story, and with that gone, there’s really little reason for me to be covering this one. As it is, the language barrier makes it possible for me to appreciate the movie when the visuals or the energy make it work, so I really only found the energetic first thirty minutes and the last fifteen minutes consistently interesting; the rest was a talky bore. I might feel better if I get to see it with subtitles, so I’ll reserve judgment until then.

Plus moche que Frankenstein tu meurs (1975)

aka Frankenstein: Italian Style, Frankenstein all’italiana
Article 3916 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-24-2012
Posting Date: 5-4-2012
Directed by Armando Crispino
Featuring Gianrico Tedeschi, Aldo Maccione, Jenny Tamburi
Country: Italy
What it is: Frankenstein sex comedy

Dr. Frankenstein creates a monster who has an eye for the women… including the doctor’s own spouse.

My copy of this Italian movie was dubbed into French and has no English subtitles. Yet, even with these handicaps, it seemed patently obvious to me that this movie was primarily inspired by YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, only sexed up, with dumber gags, and minus the stylistic emulation of the old Universal classics that gave its model that extra needed touch. I can also say that if the verbal humor of this movie is on the same level as the visual humor, then it may well have been a blessing not to have seen it in English. Visually, the gags are painfully obvious and badly timed; the only thing that brought a smile to my face was a gag involving the monster fixing Igor’s hump. And for those drawn to this movie for the sex and nudity, I can only say that unless there’s a sexier version of it out there (or a more complete one, as my copy is short about three minutes), then you’re likely to walk away from this feeling short-changed. So it comes down to the fact that from whatever angle you may be attracted to this movie, there are lots of other better choices out there.

Philadelphia Experiment II (1993)

Article 3906 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-14-2012
Posting Date: 4-24-2012
Directed by Stephen Cornwell
Featuring Brad Johnson, Marjean Holden, Gerrit Graham
Country: USA
What it is: Science fiction time travel movie

When an attempt is made to revive and enhance the original Philadelphia Experiment, the lone survivor of the first one is thrust into a parallel reality where the USA lost World War II to Hitler, due to the anomalous appearance of a stealth fighter from the future. Can the hero escape the fascist regime, go back in time, change history, and return in time to give his son the confidence he needs to win his first game in a Little League tournament?

For the second time in a row, I find myself watching a movie that deals with time travel, alternate realities, and paradoxes involving a character’s voyage back into time only to have his father killed before he was born. But instead of the witty and amusing foray into the genre that I KILLED EINSTEIN, GENTLEMEN was, this is a rather predictable, ponderous and rather dull action take on the subject, with an unbelievable plot, too much slo-mo in the action sequences, and weak dialogue. There’s a few touches I like; the people have bar codes tattooed on their arms, and I like the sequence where Gerrit Graham has the music changed on a propaganda film from classical music to country. I found Brad Johnson to be a rather dull action hero; another actor played his role in the original film (which I’ve not seen), and I’m willing to bet the original was better. At any rate, if they had any ideas of extending the whole thing into a franchise, this one killed it off.

The Phantom Baron (1943)

aka Le baron fantome
Article 3901 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-9-2012
Posting Date: 4-19-2012
Directed by Serge de Poligny
Featuring Andre Lefaur, Odette Joyeux, Jany Holt
Country: France
What it is: Gothic romantic drama

When a baron mysteriously disappears with all his worldly belongings, his heirs are left to fend for themselves. Eventually, a romantic entanglement occurs between a woman of the baron’s family, her servant, a dashing soldier, and the son of the old caretaker of the castle.

As you may gather from the above plot description, this isn’t a horror movie, despite the title. But that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of horror atmosphere; the beginning sequence, in which the scared caretaker of the castle narrates the story of the disappearance of the baron and his property is full of eerie touches, especially in a sequence where the sleepwalking baron walks off with a statue. But except for this scene and a later sequence (where we discover the fate of the baron), it’s a romantic drama of sorts. The dialogue was written by Jean Cocteau (who also plays the baron), and there are moments of poetic imagery here, especially in another sleepwalking sequence later on. The story has some odd twists and turns in it, especially in the way it becomes entwined with a fake dauphin (played memorably by Andre Lefaur), but I wouldn’t call it particularly gripping. Still, I think any horror fan would at least enjoy the first ten minutes of the movie.